Graduate workers at IU formed their first picket lines Thursday morning after multiple months of heightening tensions between their leadership and university officials.
After a vote to declare a strike passed with 97.8% of the vote on April 11, the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition-United Electrical Workers originally planned to start their picket lines on Wednesday, April 13. However, inclimate weather delayed the plans until Thursday. The workers are seeking unionization in pursuit of higher pay, benefits and better representation within IU administrative decisions involving fees.
Until IU recognizes the workers as a union, the IGWC-UE will vote on whether to continue the strike on a weekly basis.
By Thursday morning, hundreds of graduate workers and undergraduate students picketed by Sample Gates, Ballantine Hall and marched all across campus from Showalter Fountain to Eagleson Avenue.
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton arrived at Sample Gates for the start of the demonstration to support graduate workers’ push to be recognized as a union.
“I want to thank you on behalf of myself and on behalf of the community where you have many, many supporters,” Hamilton said. “Thank you for your care for each other and for this university.”
Hamilton continued by remarking on the historical significance of unions in the country.
“In the history of America, it was organized labor helping to make us better,” Hamilton said. “It brought us the weekend. It brought us safe working conditions. It brought us decent wages. It brought us benefits.”
Professor of American Studies Micol Seigel congratulated the crowd on their efforts leading up to that point and said IU would not be able to continue as it does now without graduate workers.
“If it weren’t for graduate students, this wouldn’t be a research university,” Seigel said to the demonstrators. “With you, something magical happens.”
Across campus, many undergraduate students were starting to file out of academic buildings toward Ballantine Hall in solidarity with graduate workers. Many of the classrooms inside Ballantine were left empty.
Logan Brown is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Media School and the Informatics Department. He first joined the movement when it was known as the Graduate Workers Coalition. He says that year, his friend lost a tooth after not being able to pay for dental care.
Brown understands, like many of the workers there, that he may not be at IU long enough to see any of the changes come to fruition.
“That’s the only way this is gonna happen,” Brown said. “If enough of us recognize ‘Yeah, we may never get to enjoy the fruits of this.’”
Brown said he was glad to be able to support the efforts for unionization, but at the end of the day, he wishes he could be teaching.
“Ultimately, out of the people I’ve been talking to, they don’t want to not work,” Brown said. “That’s the thing about being a grad student. You become a grad student because you really love something, because you really want to teach.”
This was the first semester Brown was able to teach a class of his own design — but he doubts he will be able to return before the semester ends.
Dominic Thompson, while not a graduate student, came to Thursday’s picket line at Sample Gates in a show of support. Thompson, who is a candidate for Monroe County Commissioner, said he believes the strike is happening alongside increased support for unions from the general public.
“I think right now, here in the United States, we’re starting to see a resurgence of unions and popularity in them,” Thompson said. “I think this is a great opportunity, not only for our grad workers, but it’s also a great opportunity to inspire more unions throughout our community.”
In an email from IU spokesperson Chuck Carney to the Indiana Daily Student, Carney said IU hopes to continue the dialogue with their graduate workers, but is also committed to protecting undergraduate students.