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Iowa State Daily

Graduate students organize a push for unionization

Joseph Dicklin
Iowa State Ghost Trees located outside of Beardshear Hall Aug. 22, 2023.

Graduate Student Voices (GSV) is an effort organized by Iowa State graduate students with the goal of unionizing. GSV is currently collecting signatures from students interested in holding a vote to unionize.

“Over the last few years, I’ve kind of started personally interpreting it as the move to really get to a vote on unionization at Iowa State,” said Conference Chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate Ryan Everett, a graduate student in English and a member of GSV. “The stance is clear. We need to have a vote on unionization, and so this move to get 50% of people is kind of what that is.”

Everett stated that signing GSV’s petition to initiate the voting process is not an indication of whether or not a graduate student wishes to unionize, rather that it is a part of the process.

In April, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) passed legislation expressing their support for GSV’s initiative. President of GPSS Christine Cain, a graduate student in education, said she feels as though the bridge between GPSS and GSV lies in their foundation that graduate students “have the right to fair and humane working conditions.”

“As part of GPSS, we want to make sure we have those same goals—really making sure that graduate student voices are heard, that their rights and responsibilities are being respected and that graduate students are aware of where they sit in terms of university relations,” Cain said.

Should Iowa State graduate students unionize, the union’s structure will be similar to the graduate student union at the University of Iowa, which has been unionized since 1996, according to GSV Steering Committee Member Sarah Chase, a graduate student in education. Should a vote pass at Iowa State, they will share the same parent union, United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), a rank-and-file labor union.

“I think the entities and structures that Iowa State University currently has in place are not enough to push for the kind of collective bargaining concerns that GSV would be able to do with the support of UE,” Chase said.

Chase said Iowa State’s potential union will be able to rely on UE for assistance in negotiations.

“For example, University of Iowa is able to lean on their parent union and say, ‘Hey, we want an increase in salary, we want more health care supports,’ or ‘We want to waive or reduce these student fees,’ and through collective bargaining, they can negotiate for those things,” Chase said.

Cain spoke on how graduate students are not considered employees, but they are held to the same standards as faculty.

“For example, faculty is a protected status, and during COVID-19, many faculty members could choose not to be in the classroom if they did not feel it was healthy or safe to do so,” Cain said. “Graduate students, however, had to follow university policy and were often mandated as needing to be in the classroom as a teacher. So, faculty didn’t have to be, but [graduate teaching assistants] did.”

Petition forms can be found on Wednesdays and Thursdays at canvassing events in the Free Speech Zone in front of Parks Library around noon.

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    Nick | Sep 6, 2023 at 10:43 am

    I’d like to provide a little more context on what was decided by GPSS in April. GPSS did not vote to outright “support” GSV. GPSS amended the wording of the bill pushed forward to make it so that the body supports a vote so that the graduate students can decide for themselves. As of April, GPSS has no official stance or “yes/no” opinion of GSV. GPSS has only committed to the support of a vote (with no support of a specific outcome) and that GPSS would maintain productive working relations with GSV if it becomes official.

    Here are the senate meeting minutes from April 2023 that detail this decision:

    ● Move to amend wording of bill to specify that this bill supports
    voting on a union (Eddie Mahoney)
    ○ Motion seconded
    ■ Debate:
    ● This will only get us to a moment of a vote,
    then we would need another vote to
    continue supporting GSV
    ● This wouldn’t disrupt future partnerships
    with GSV
    ● This would still help bring GSV to the
    ● Voting to amend first resolve to:
    ○ Rewording to make it say that GPSS supports the vote for
    whether or not to unionize, not that GPSS specifically
    supports unionizing
    ● Voting on actual document debate:
    ● Motion to close debate
    ○ Second
    ● Motion to adopt resolution with amendment
    ○ Seconded
    ○ Adopted with amendment

    Hopefully this provides additional context to this decision. Many members of GPSS recognize the importance of graduate student rights and our need to be heard/respected (including myself), but the stance of GPSS is currently not defined.

    – Nicholas Bockenstedt (GPSS Senator)