Indiana Daily Student

IU Graduate Workers push for unionization

Members of the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition protest Nov. 10, 2019, on Jordan Avenue.
Members of the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition protest Nov. 10, 2019, on Jordan Avenue.

The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition is actively trying to organize a union for graduate employees of the university. Graduate workers at IU are demanding a response to what they call a lack of dignified working conditions such as unlivable pay and sizable fees to the university, IGWC spokesperson Cole Nelson said. 

Nelson claims the graduate workers are underpaid as employees of the university, making thousands of dollars less than the standard of living in Bloomington. 

Lauren Robel, former Provost of IUB, wrote a letter in response to graduate workers' complaints such as unlivable pay, according to an IDS article

“She comes to a number of conclusions, one being that ‘end the fees’ is not a necessary demand,” Nelson said in the article. “Another being that graduate workers are, in fact, making a living wage, which is a deeply contestable argument.”

Nelson claimed unionizing will give graduate workers a path toward official recognition by the university, Nelson said.  

This official recognition will make IU negotiate the concerns that graduate workers are facing across campus, which is made possible by IU’s own policy, the HR 12-20

“The university provides an official process for us to form an employee organization, known as a union,'' Nelson said. “The policy stipulates a three step process towards forming a labor union at IU.”

This three step process requires employees to petition for the desire to have a union, Nelson said. He said the petition can only be passed when a majority of graduate workers are on union cards.

“The union card affirms that you would like a union to exist here at IU, which shows your support for the union,” Associate Instructor and doctoral student Chelsea Brinda said.

Once the union is created, there will be graduate workers who will work together to see these changes made through formal discussions with the administration, Brinda said. 

Out of the schools in the Big Ten, IU ranks second to last in how expensive the fees are  according to 2020-21 academic year projections made by the IGWC. According to the projections, IU’s fees for the graduate workers per semester were $703 this fall.

Chuck Carney, IU spokesperson, said part-time employment is not the reason graduate students choose IU, they choose this campus to get their doctoral education. He also said students on average receive $51, 775 of academic support at IU-Bloomington. 

The IU trustees are working to lessen the fees for all students, but with the minimal funding from the state, it makes it difficult to lower fees for essential parts of campus, Carney said. 

“In recent years we have streamlined those fees to lessen many of them, but with state funding accounting for only 16 % of academic and student-support programs, some fees are needed to pay for critical services such as student health, campus transportation, technology, and repair and rehabilitation of facilities,” Carney said in an email to the Indiana Daily Student. 

Doctoral student Nora Weber said her passion for fair compensation for the labor done by herself and the other graduate workers is the reason she decided to join the coalition in hopes of a union forming. 

IU recognizes these workers when it comes to teaching classes, running labs and other duties that are essential to the university’s operation, but it does not consider the dire situation that graduate workers are currently due to their limited stipend, Weber said.

The movement of these unions will cause other potential students interested in graduate work to come to IU if they have a real commitment to the unions, Weber said.

“I am really optimistic about a future in which the graduate workers are in direct communication with the administration about what conditions are like for us,” Weber said. 

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