Updated 11/8/23

Washington State University (WSU) is currently in contract negotiations with the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, Local 4121 (UAW) to establish an initial Collective Bargaining Agreement (Contract) that will cover the Academic Student Employees. UAW may decide to engage in job actions in the coming weeks to apply pressure at the bargaining table.

Possible Job Actions include but are not limited to:

  • Picketing
  • Sick-out (i.e. organized absence from work by workers on the same day(s) on the pretext of sickness)
  • Sit-in (i.e. group of people occupy a place as a form of protest)
  • Strike/Walk-out/Work stoppage
  • Work slowdown (i.e. workers deliberately reduce productivity)
  • Unauthorized leave

Are employees allowed to go on strike?

Washington State law Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 41.56.120 – Right to strike not granted, does not grant state employees the right to strike. However, we are aware similar higher education groups have participated in strikes/work stoppage in the past. The Washington State Office of the Attorney General has a published opinion which in general states public employees cannot strike.

What type of picketing does the law allow to take place at a WSU site?

Picketing is allowed on WSU sites as long as it:

  • Does not interfere with orderly business operations;
  • Does not block ingress or egress to facilities; and
  • Does not physically harass, threaten or intimidate any individual accessing WSU or any of its facilities.

See Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 504-31 Conduct on campus code and 504-33 Facility use rules for first amendment/free speech activities

What reaction, if any, should departments have to job actions?

No reaction is necessary, unless the activity interferes with the orderly operation of the department or facility. If the activity interferes with operations, contact WSU Labor Relations at hrs.labor@wsu.edu  or 509-335-4521 as soon as possible.

  • Managers and supervisors should take no action that would reasonably be interpreted as interfering, restraining or being coercive.
  • If there are concerns of health and safety, WSU campus police or security or local law enforcement at a non-campus location should be contacted, but no direct action taken by department personnel.

See WAC 504-31 Conduct on campus code and 504-33 Facility use rules for first amendment/free speech activities and 504-35 Facility use rules for other than first amendment/free speech activities.

If I am an Academic Student Employee and I choose to work, where do I go if I am feeling pressured or threatened about my choice?

In accordance with WAC 504-26-230, intimidations, threats, coercion, or discrimination against any individual for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by university policies, or because the individual has made a report or complaint, testified, assisted, or participated or refused to participate in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing, is prohibited. 

Additionally, WSU BPPM 50.31 details policies on Workplace Bullying Prevention and Reporting, which includes undermining or impeding another person’s work as bullying. BPPM 50.31 lists resources available to employees and supervisors and includes a link to the Workplace Bullying Incident Report.

What do I do if employees picketing impact access to the worksite?

Employees who negatively impact day-to-day function of the University may be subject to employment actions including corrective or disciplinary action.

What information can supervisors share about possible job actions?

Supervisors can explain attendance expectations and reiterate WSU leave and callout policies and procedures. Management should refrain from expressing opinions in support of, or opposition to, any job action.

What should I do if I have an employee who refuses to cross a picket line?

WSU employees do not have the right to refuse to cross a picket line. The only exception is when there is a legitimate concern over health and safety. You may remind the employee that all WSU employees have an obligation to come to work and perform the functions for which they are paid. If an employee does not cross a picket line, they may request to use accrued personal leave in accordance with university policy or may request alternate work options. What if any leave or alternative work options are available are at the discretion of the department.

Is it appropriate to take pictures of employees on the picket line?

It is not appropriate to take pictures or video of peaceful demonstrations. If employees are taking pictures of each other, either at work or participating in a job action and the employee(s) being photographed do not object, you do not need to take any action.

Can an employee request leave or a change in work schedule in order to participate in a strike?

Employees are free to request time away from work however they choose.  They may also request a change in their work schedule.

  • Per the current Chapter Nine – Graduate Assistantships of the Graduate School Policies & Procedures manual.
    • During the term of the appointment, all graduate students on assistantship appointment are expected to be at work each normal workday, including periods when the university classes are not in session, with the exception of the legal holidays designated by the Board of Regents.
    • There is no annual leave associated with assistantships.
  • Student hourly positions also do not earn annual leave.

Supervisors are to assess the request for time away from the worksite as they would do for any other request, considering only the usual and customary factors relating to the business need for the services of the employee. If the business need is such that time away from work cannot be granted, or a work schedule may not be adjusted, you should deny the request.

It is important to be consistent and to document the business reasons for your decision to approve or deny the time away from work. Per RCW 42.52.160 employees may not use state resources for non-work purposes or personal gain. This includes receiving regular pay when not engaged in work activities.

What if an employee does not work their expected hours?

Graduate students on Assistantships do not record time, and time offs such as annual leave, sick leave, etc. do not currently apply to this group. However, the Leave Without Pay time off type will be available in Workday. Please review the Enter and Correct Time Off and Absence on Behalf of Employee – HR Partner and Timekeeper Workday reference guide for information on how to record leave without pay for appropriate hours not worked.

Temporary/Hourly employees scheduled to work who do not, are not paid for hours not worked.

If the employee is absent from work activities without authorization, performance may be addressed. However, you should review the appropriate employee standards and confer with appropriate departments.

Can employees walk the picket line during lunch and breaks?

Employees may use non-work time to participate in activities of their choice.

Does an Academic Student Employee’s choice to strike impact their education courses/dissertation?

Academic Student Employees (ASE) who choose to strike in their employment role, are still expected to attend academic classes and continue making progress on their education. There should be no retaliatory actions against an ASE in their academic courses for participation in a strike.

How does WSU avoid unfair labor practices charges?

Employers are barred from interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of rights relating to organizing, forming, joining or assisting a labor organization for collective bargaining purposes, or refraining from any such activity. Supervisors are WSU’s representatives on the front line. Visit the Employer TIPS and TOOLS webpage for helpful guidelines.

For further information, contact WSU Labor Relations at hrs.labor@wsu.edu  or 509-335-4521.