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caption: UW researchers kick off their strike at Red Square, June 7, 2023.
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UW researchers kick off their strike at Red Square, June 7, 2023.
Monica Nickelsburg / KUOW

2,400 UW researchers strike for raises, inclusivity

Thousands of University of Washington research scientists and postdoctoral researchers went on strike Wednesday to demand living wages, childcare support, and other benefits.

Many of them descended on UW’s Red Square for a rally kicking off the strike. Others picketed at locations across the university campus. The strike will impact a wide range of research projects that the workers support, in areas like healthcare, climate change, and emerging technologies.

Katie Osterhage is a research scientist at the university’s Department of Family Medicine who focuses on providing care for patients struggling with opioid use disorder.

“All of us love our work,” said ahead of Wednesday’s rally. “We are really sad to be making this choice to be out here on the picket line, but we deserve to be treated fairly in terms of being paid a living wage to work at this university.”

caption: Katie Osterhage studies health care for people struggling with opioid addiction.
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Katie Osterhage studies health care for people struggling with opioid addiction.
Monica Nickelsburg / KUOW

Osterhage said many researchers are struggling to pay rent and afford healthcare.

“That's not OK when these people are working to make the world a better place and the UW is a multibillion dollar research institution,” she said.

UAW Local 4121, the union representing the researchers, claims the university is defying the state-mandated minimum salary threshold.

UW says it has offered significant wage increases, including “an average 15% total wage increase this year” for postdocs.

“We are very disappointed at the postdoctoral researchers and research scientists’ decisions to strike after some significant progress was made in both negotiations recently,” said UW spokesperson Victor Balta in a statement.

The minimum wage for postdocs and researchers is currently around $53,000, according to UW’s student newspaper The Daily.

At the rally Wednesday, Beth Martin said conditions have changed for researchers during her 30 years in the field.

“When I was a young scientist in academia, my life wasn't glamorous, but I could pay rent, save for the future, even buy a little house in Seattle,” she said.

caption: UW research scientist Beth Martin speaks at a rally in Red Square.
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UW research scientist Beth Martin speaks at a rally in Red Square.
Monica Nickelsburg

Martin was one of several employees who spoke, along with members from other unions and State Representative Nicole Macri, whose district includes UW.

“You have worked so hard to get into your careers," Martin told the crowd. "You discover new truths about life and our universe. You create new technologies. You have skills that no one else has. Your research and knowledge fuels this university. You deserve to have a life where you are not struggling. You deserve to thrive.”

The union and university have been in negotiations for months. In addition to raises, they’re seeking support for parents of young children and sexual harassment training in line with what their colleagues receive.

The workers hope the strike will have a broad impact on the university by discouraging members of other unions not to cross the picket line.

“It's been really great to feel the solidarity of other members of this community,” Osterhage said.

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