September 29, 2023

‘More say, more pay’: IU grad workers begin union recognition and living wage campaign

The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition held a rally Thursday, asking graduate workers to sign union cards.  - Clayton Baumgarth, WFIU/WTIU

The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition held a rally Thursday, asking graduate workers to sign union cards.

Clayton Baumgarth, WFIU/WTIU

The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition (IGWC-UE) declared its commitment to union recognition and higher wages with its “More say, more pay” rally Thursday.  

The on-campus rally attracted nearly 100 people in a push to collect signed union cards. Members spoke of struggling to afford life in Bloomington on a $22,000 yearly graduate stipend and called for IU to work with the union. 

Anne Kavalerchik, IGWC coordinating officer, said the union is growing membership and working toward requesting a union election by the end of the year.   

“We are in every lab. We are in every department. We are in every school. We are having face to face conversations. We are calling, and we're texting people,” Kavalerchik, a Phd candidate in sociology and informatics, said. “And we are telling everyone on this campus that they don't have to settle for choosing between rent and groceries every month.” 

Indiana University did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.  

Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion James Wimbush said in a 2022 university op-ed that graduate students would be “harmed by a reclassification from student to part-time employee.” He also said a union would be an “obstruction” to the work of the university. 

The IGWC recently celebrated its four-year anniversary. Graduate workers won higher stipends and fee eliminations from the university in 2022, though the university didn’t promise future raises. 

Kavalerchik said the union has pushed for recognition and an election since 2021.  

“As of right now, graduate workers live in precarity,” Kavalerchik said. “We need a union to secure the winds that our organization has gotten in the past and to actually and to actually have a say in our workplace.” 

Only the Board of Trustees can authorize recognition. The Bloomington Faculty Council, the Undergraduate Student Government, the  Graduate and Professional Student Government and the Bloomington City Council have all voted to support and recognize the union.  

Bryce Greene, an organizing officer and an area coordinator, said when he first came to IU, he was inspired by the union’s organizing efforts and success. He said he and the IGWC are hopeful as they prepare for a union vote and work toward higher pay. 

The ball is in IU’s court, he said, and “if they want to continue to have graduate students who are underpaid and overworked, that's their decision.” 

“We expect them to understand that graduate workers are what make this university function,” Greene said. “I mean, we teach the kids. We grade the papers. If you're not going to take care of the people who make this university function, what are you doing?” 

Based on MIT’s  living wage calculator, the IGWC said in a press release living wages in Bloomington should be about $28,000 for 10-month contracts and about $34,000 for 12-month contracts. 

Nuzrath Jahan, an organizing officer and PhD student, said the union wants a say in their working conditions. She said many gradaute students, and most PhD students, have families to support. Jahan said they need a living wage. 

“There’s always hope,” she said. “Here we are, asking for a democratic right. “ 

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