The independent student newspaper of Iowa State and Ames since 1890

Iowa State Daily

Iowa State Daily

Iowa State Daily

Letter: What a graduate student worker union can do for you and how to support one at Iowa State

Graduate Student Voices spread awareness for the graduate student worker union
Courtesy of Unsplash
Guest Columnist Joshua Trier explains why he thinks the UAW strikes are baseless.

For the 2022-2023 academic year, the minimum graduate assistantship stipend for a 50% appointment at Iowa State University was $19,100. However, at the University of Iowa (UI), “the minimum salary rate for bargaining unit employees during the term of this Agreement will be $20,708 for a 50% academic year appointment and $25,300 for a fifty percent (50%) fiscal year appointment.” We’re both public universities in Iowa run by the Board of Regents, so why the difference? 

In part, COGS: Campaign to Organize Graduate Students. Through organizing efforts like a “grade-in” and membership drives, graduate student employees at the University of Iowa were able to form a union in 1996. This gives UI graduate student workers, including international students, collective bargaining power through their affiliate union, UE: The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. COGS has focused on “securing better health care, fair salaries, tuition waivers, and a grievance procedure for graduate employees” and has seen success with efforts like university contribution to dependent healthcare. As their union continues to push for protections and rights, current union members receive benefits such as ongoing contract negotiations and an independent grievance committee.

Similar to UI, Iowa State depends on graduate student labor, and those of us at Graduate Student Voices (GSV) believe that we should establish a graduate student union on our campus as well. After hearing from many of you, we are currently focusing on the following issues:

  • As we’ve stated before, Iowa State does not view us as employees, which denies us the same legal rights and resources, such as worker’s compensation. 
  • Due to workplace bullying and discrimination, particularly for those with marginalized identities, we need an independent grievance process.  
  • We recognize the need for changes to health care, including university contribution toward dependent coverage.
  • Iowa State’s system of contracts and stipends is based on academic semesters (UI offers fiscal or calendar year appointments), which can result in an increased potential for delayed LOIs, pay and Ubills, as well as general financial insecurity. 

We recognize that some may attribute Iowa State and UI salary differences solely to differences in living costs, like rental disparities. We also acknowledge that salary varies based on college or department/program, leading to both disparities across campus and the potential for some graduate students to be paid more than the minimum mentioned above. However, even if you’re currently benefiting from this system, having the additional collective bargaining power of a union can help us all push for the financial security we need as rent, tuition and other expenses continue to rise. For instance, Iowa State graduate student workers will be paid a minimum of $19,674 for the 2023-2024 school year. However, those with an equivalent 50% academic year appointment at UI will be at $21,329, a 3% increase in minimum salary set for 2023-2024 and again for 2024-2025, with future negotiation plans for increased salary and waived student fees. 

Along with the benefits mentioned above, union membership provides solidarity through community across graduate student workers as well as voting rights and the ability to bring issues to the union. In exchange for these benefits, union members elect to give membership dues. For comparison, COGS members pay about $29 a month (when they are actively receiving monthly employment checks from the university). In their case, membership dues pay for a part-time office coordinator, legal assistance fees to UE, union activities, etc. However, you can vote “yes” for a union to exist and later choose not to join it personally. And remember that while strikes are prohibited, in Iowa we have every right to collectively bargain and organize. By joining the current list of successful national and Iowa student unions, you can not only be a part of history but also efforts that can directly benefit you and fellow students like you. 

Iowa State’s GPSS has officially supported the right to vote, and we gained enough interested graduate student workers to have official support from UE, the same affiliate union as COGS. Here are the next steps we need to take to legally make a union possible:

  1. Now that the semester has started, we are collecting graduate student signatures through a petition. Because a union does not currently exist at Iowa State, signing does not mean you are agreeing to pay dues yet! However, collecting signatures from at least 30% (our goal is 50%) of graduate student workers helps us be more confident that we’ll have enough people willing to vote “yes” during the official vote. 
  2. Once we have those petition signatures, we will work with UE and Iowa’s PERB (Public Employment Relations Board) to determine our bargaining unit (i.e, graduate students working 25% or more within a graduate assistantship role for the university). 
  3. We will then ask PERB to hold the official vote. For this step, if more than 50% of the graduate student population votes to form a union, GSV will be officially recognized. We at GSV are excited for this potential and look forward to voting “yes” to form a union at Iowa State! 
  4. Once GSV is an official union, graduate students can sign up and UE can start negotiating on behalf of these members. We look forward to this opportunity to build community across graduate student workers and the democratic process of representing your student concerns alongside COGS and UE.  

Currently, the most important thing you can do is add your signature to the GSV petition. To be recognized by PERB, this has to be a physical signature, so there are a few different ways you can do that. 

  • Stop by to say hello to GSV volunteers at the Free Speech Zone by Parks Library (11 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesdays and 1-2 p.m. Thursdays). 
  • Attend one of our Listening & Information sessions at the Ames Public Library (first floor auditorium) from 6-7 p.m. Sept. 26, Oct. 24 and Nov. 13. 
  • Print off the petition from our website for you and your graduate student friends/colleagues to physically sign. Reach out to us and we’ll find the best way to get the form from you. 

We also encourage you to get up-to-date information by joining our mailing list and welcome you to join the GSV team. You can learn more about us and unionizing at any time through our website FAQs and resources as well as spread the word to those you know—either in person or by sharing posts on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Discord

Leave a Comment
Donate to Iowa State Daily
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of the Iowa State Daily. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, send our student journalists to conferences and off-set their cost of living so they can continue to do best-in-the-nation work at the Iowa State Daily.

More to Discover
Donate to Iowa State Daily
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All Iowa State Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *