Student activists with a list of demands disrupted a dinner meeting of the University of Washington regents.
Demanding higher wages, a freeze on tuition and better working conditions for custodians, a raucous group of student activists packed into the University of Washington Club on Wednesday and disrupted a dinner meeting of UW’s regents.
The regents and UW police tried to wrest control of the meeting from the protesters but were shouted down by nearly 100 people packed into a lounge on the building’s first floor. After about 20 minutes, the regents fled to a downstairs dining room in the UW Club, leaving plates of uneaten appetizers on the table.
The protests were led by Reclaim UW, a coalition of student groups that includes academic student employees represented by UAW 4121.
“I’m not all that surprised they left — but I think they heard us,” said Elizabeth Mills, a member of UAW 4121 and a student employee.
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She said the union, which represents 4,500 student employees — largely graduate students who teach undergraduate classes — will take a strike vote Monday. She said the union has been negotiating with the university since December and wants better health-care benefits, among other requests.
A strike vote, if approved, would give the union authority to call for a strike if it is unable to negotiate a contract, Mills said. The present contract expires April 30.
Before the regents left the dining room, the Reclaim UW coalition read a broad list of demands that included freezing all categories of tuition, restoring custodian positions cut during the recession, waiving tuition-payment requirements for academically mandated internships and following the city’s new minimum-wage law.
Standing on chairs and chanting slogans, the students overwhelmed a force of a half-dozen UW police, and shouted down regent chair Bill Ayer and officers who tried to persuade them to leave.
The UW has said that because it is a state entity, it is unclear if it needs to comply with the city’s minimum-wage law. That law requires large employers to pay employees at least $11 an hour.
A week ago, the UW said it would increase the wages of 70 of its lowest-paid employees to $11 an hour. But an additional 2,600 student employees continue to make less than $11 an hour in student jobs.
The UW has said it is studying whether it would be possible to increase wages to all student employees, and whether such a wage bump would cause price increases on campus.
The coalition also demanded that money be allocated to programs, activities and research of interest to minority communities.
The Reclaim UW group was accompanied by a smaller group of animal-rights protesters trying to stop the construction of an underground animal lab on the Seattle campus, one that will allow the university to increase the number of animals it uses in research.
Last year, primate-testing opponents sued the UW Board of Regents for discussing the lab during a dinner meeting at the UW president’s mansion, Hill-Crest, saying the meeting violated the state Open Meetings law. While the university says the meeting did not violate the law, it nevertheless changed the venue of its dinner meetings to the UW Club, located on campus.