More than 100 graduate workers crowded into the foyer and atrium of Franklin Hall on Tuesday afternoon toting laptops, books, folders and picket signs during the Work-In organized by the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition-United Electrical Workers. The demonstration was part of the coalition’s campaign to be recognized by the university as a labor union representing graduate workers.
The demonstration, which aimed to highlight the labor graduate students perform for the university, came just over two weeks after the coalition received a letter from Interim Provost John S. Applegate rejecting their request for a union election. The demonstration coincided with incoming Provost Rahul Shrivastav’s first day on the job.
In December, the IGWC-UE submitted the request for an election along with 1,584 signatures of support from graduate workers, representing more than half the total number at IU.
Applegate’s letter denied the coalition’s petition on the grounds that they were not staff employees, but student academic appointees.
IGWC-UE organizer Sam Smucker said the coalition is hoping for a dialogue with Provost Shrivastav.
“We recognize that the Provost is new – this is his first day – but we need to be able to talk with him about a process that gets us to unionization,” Smucker said.
During the demonstration, a group of around 20 graduate workers walked past the Sample Gates to Bryan Hall and filed into the foyer of the Provost’s office to sit on the floor with laptops and folders balanced in their laps, grading papers and catching up on reading. The Provost was not in his office.
Back in Franklin Hall, Nico Noé, a graduate student from France, graded student compositions sitting cross-legged by the door to a stairwell.
“This is extremely necessary for us, especially because we're all dealing with, you know, hard living conditions, to be honest, even though we're really privileged to do what we're doing,” Noé said.
Noé said he relies on his family’s support to help pay his rent. He said while staying in the country on an F1 visa, international students can’t simply go find an additional job out in the community to help make ends meet.
“I was flabbergasted when I realized that my fellow graduate students do not have something called a union,” Noé said. “Because it is just something that historically has proven itself to be a great means to voice the needs of the people in a very smart way through dialogue.”
Dialogue with IU administration, Smucker said, is exactly what he hopes union recognition would bring the coalition.
“We've been campaigning for almost three years now – around ending the fees and around a living wage – and we're at the point where we recognize we have to have a union to have any sort of ability to communicate with this administration,” Smucker said.
Nathan Schmidt has been involved with the graduate workers’ efforts since not long after he started his studies at IU in 2016. He said it quickly became apparent that his stipend was not sufficient on its own to cover his living expenses, much less those of his young son. Many of his colleagues, he said, are in similar positions.
“I see a bunch of brilliant people working their asses off for poverty-level wages and there’s no reason why that has to remain the case,” Schmidt said.
When contacted by the Indiana Daily Student on Monday, IU spokesperson Chuck Carney declined to comment on the Work-In or to speculate on the incoming provost’s intentions to meet with graduate workers.
Wei Wang contributed to reporting.