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Wednesday, June 19
The Indiana Daily Student

campus administration

Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition again demands wage increases, union recognition in letter

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Members of the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition (IGWC) assembled at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Franklin Hall to formally file a request to IU President Pamela Whitten’s office explicitly calling for a living wage minimum based on the MIT Living Wage Calculator for graduate workers — known as Student Academic Appointees (SAAs). The IGWC also asked for the union to be recognized by the administration through voting rights. 

The coalition — formed in 2019 as a voice for graduate workers and their demands — aims to secure bargaining rights, cost of living increases, fair work and degree expectations, fairness for international students, expanded medical and parental benefits, and the protection of higher education.  

Following a month-long strike in Spring 2022, the coalition convinced the administration to reallocate more funds toward graduate education. The union also rallied in Fall 2023 as part of its “More Say, More Pay” campaign where it advocated for increased wages and handed out union cards to encourage graduate workers to become part of the union.  

The members that assembled at Franklin Hall peacefully rallied their intentions in a march toward the Office of the Provost and Vice President in Bryan Hall. They unfurled a chain of almost 1,300 union cards taped together, representing the voices of the 1,300 graduate workers who championed the petition. 

“I see this as a momentous event rather than a protest,” Katharina Schmid-Schmidsfelden, a doctoral student in Germanic Studies, said. “It’s a great opportunity to simultaneously spread awareness about the issue and garner more recognition.” 

In the letter addressed to Whitten, the union stated its goal to establish a productive and respectful bargaining relationship with the IU administration and outlined two major requests.  

The coalition requested the university increase IU graduate worker wages to meet the living wage minimum based on the MIT Living Wage Calculator for Bloomington – currently $27,973 for 10-month SAAs and $33,568 for 12-month SAAs, according to the letter – and that those increases be funded through the Central Administration budget. 

Members also requested IU collectively bargain with an elected committee of the IGWC over all wages, benefits and working conditions for SAA positions and to recognize the IGWC as the exclusive bargaining representative of graduate employees at IU. 

Moreover, according to the letter, in Spring 2022, the faculty at IU decisively voted for a motion to endorse a pathway to union recognition for SAAs. The letter requested the acknowledgment of the majority faculty's decision, urging active participation in a process that recognizes the rights of graduate employees at IU. 

“I’ve never been a part of a union until I became a graduate student,” Anne Kavalerchik, a doctoral student in Informatics, said. “Graduate workers deserve increased wages to meet the living wage minimum due to the recent inflation.”  

Through this letter, IGWC aims to commence a union election process that enables graduate employees at IU to autonomously select their bargaining representative through a democratic election, taking a page from the framework established by the National Labor Relations Board.  

If graduate employees opt for representation by IGWC in the election, members demand administration participate in a collective bargaining process, according to the letter. This would lead to the establishment of a written contract specifying graduate employee wages, benefits and working conditions. 

“What we want is for President Whitten to take personal responsibility for the relationship between the administration and the graduate workers,” Sam Smucker, a doctoral candidate in the Media School, said. “She must decide whether the relationship will be one of openness and dialogue or one in which the administration turns a deaf ear to the voices of graduate employees.” 

The letter calls for a response from President Whitten by Jan. 29.

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