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University of Washington academic student employees began striking over pay Tuesday.

United Auto Workers Local 4121 said in a news release that it represents 6,000 undergraduate and graduate teaching and research assistants, instructors, graders and tutors. The union said it had extended its negotiations with the university for weeks before its members resorted to walking off the job.

“This has left us no choice,” Francesca Colonnese, a predoctoral instructor, said in the release. “We will be striking until we get a contract that allows us to continue in the research and teaching we love rather than be forced out because our wages are unsustainable.”

Most academic student employees, the release said, “make less than $40,000 per year, and often struggle to make ends meet even while providing critical instructional and research service to the university.”

In an email Tuesday, university spokesman and assistant vice president for communications Victor Balta said “negotiations continued until very late last night and we are bargaining in good faith.” Balta said the university has upped its proposed pay increases to 12 percent in the first year of the contract, followed by another 8 percent in each of the next two years, while the union is demanding 12 percent raises in all three years.

“We value our academic student employees and we are committed to reaching a fair agreement,” Balta wrote. “We have been working to ensure academic continuity, laying the groundwork to keep classes and degree completion going, and we are hopeful that any disruption to UW students as a result of this strike will be minimal.”

Neither side gave a number Tuesday for how many workers are actually withholding their work, or how many classes have been canceled. A union spokesperson did say in an email that more than 1,250 academic student employees signed up for picket shifts Tuesday morning, “with more shifts scheduled throughout the day.”

University of Washington postdoctoral researchers and research scientists and engineers, represented by the same UAW local, struck for a week and a half in June 2023, winning significant pay increases.