Indiana Daily Student

IU graduate workers submit union cards to Board of Trustees, call for union election

<p>Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition-United Electrical Workers members Pat Wall and Rachel Epplin stand outside the Office of the Board of Trustees on Dec. 10, 2021, at Franklin Hall. A majority of IU’s graduate workers submitted union cards petitioning for a union vote.</p>

Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition-United Electrical Workers members Pat Wall and Rachel Epplin stand outside the Office of the Board of Trustees on Dec. 10, 2021, at Franklin Hall. A majority of IU’s graduate workers submitted union cards petitioning for a union vote.

Members of the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition-United Electrical Workers submitted a letter to the Office of the Board of Trustees Friday, formally requesting IU to hold a union election.

According to an IGWC-UE press release, 1,584 graduate workers have signed union cards with the coalition indicating they favor holding a union election, representing more than 60% of the approximately 2,500 graduate workers at IU.

An IU human resources policy requires 30% of a staff unit to petition in favor of a union election before such an election is held, well under the percentage of graduate workers who have submitted the union cards.

“The day after Starbucks workers made history by forming the first union at that company, graduate workers at IU are also making history,” IGWC-UE spokesperson Cole Nelson said in the release. “We will have a union here. It’s time for annual raises and to end the fees once and for all.”

IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said in an email to the Indiana Daily Student that the university will review the coalition’s submissions to follow up in the future.

IGWC-UE’s requests include increased wages, an end to mandatory and international fees, improved benefits, an external grievance procedure and fairness for international students, according to the release.

The IGWC rallied more than 800 IU graduate students to withhold paying their mandatory fees in the past spring semester. On May 1, the coalition voted to end the fee strike and begin organizing a union, according to its website. The move came after then-Provost Lauren Robel wrote a letter to the coalition rejecting some of its key claims, arguing that doctoral student workers do earn a living wage and that since graduate workers are students, they should pay mandatory fees.

During the past summer, the IGWC decided to affiliate with the national labor union United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America to gain union recognition at IU, according to the coalition’s website.

IGWC-UE members and IU graduate students Pat Wall and Rachel Epplin delivered the letter to the Office of the Board of Trustees in Franklin Hall along with a digital copy of the union cards that had been signed by IU’s graduate workers dating back to May of this year.

Wall said the coalition’s letter to the Board of Trustees calls on the IU administration to decide before Feb. 1, 2022, when to formally organize a union vote. He said he hopes the graduate workers will have a union contract in 2022 after the union is established.

IGWC-UE member and IU doctoral student Sam Smucker, who was also present at the letter submission event, said the submission is a big step toward graduate students gaining a stronger voice at IU.

“The university doesn’t prioritize us, and it hasn’t been prioritizing graduate education,” he said. “And our goal now is to make sure that grad employee voices are heard every year, all the time.”

Smucker said more than 100 members of the coalition held tabling events and helped form organizing committees in their academic departments during the fall semester to reach as many people as possible.

“You can see the elation here with people and how excited they are because they’ve worked so hard,” he said. “We’ve got to have a say. We’ve got to have a seat at the table to get our needs heard and to make graduate education accessible to anybody and everybody.”

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