Higher education

University of Iowa grad students demand more pay, no tuition or fees

'We make a real difference on this campus'

Bailey Kelley, vice president of the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, leads a chant during rally on the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. COGS made a public presetation its contract proposal for the 2017-2019 collective bargaining agreement with the Board of Regents following the rally. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Bailey Kelley, vice president of the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, leads a chant during rally on the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. COGS made a public presetation its contract proposal for the 2017-2019 collective bargaining agreement with the Board of Regents following the rally. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — The graduate student union representing 2,200 University of Iowa teaching and research assistants is asking the Board of Regents to raise their pay and eliminate their tuition and mandatory fees.

Representatives with the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students — or COGS — met with board and university officials Tuesday to present their proposed 2017-2019 collective bargaining agreement. The meeting opened negotiations for COGS’ 11th two-year contract with the university, and the Board of Regents is expected to present a counter proposal Nov. 15.

The COGS proposal raises minimum pay about 9 percent for half-time appointments in the 2018 budget year and about 12 percent for half-time appointments in the 2019 budget year. Returning employees in the proposed contract’s first budget year would see a minimum salary hike of $1,379 — more than six times above the $221 increase in the current contract.

In year two, returning employees would see at least $1,462 more, doubling the contract’s current $670.

Meanwhile, the contract proposes full tuition scholarships for all union employees with at least quarter-time appointments and for employees appointed for less than a full semester or term. The university currently offers partial tuition scholarships, granting assistance based on credit hours and program.

The COGS proposal also pushes for total fee reimbursement for quarter-time employees and for those appointed for less than a full term, all international graduate employees, and any students required to audit a course for no credit.

“We need our salaries to live, not to help the university borrow more money,” COGS representative Judah Unmuth-yockey said during the presentation. “Therefore, we want to end all payment of mandatory fees.”

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The students through their contract proposal are demanding better and more equitable health coverage, increasing the employer’s contribution for dependents and adding coverage for infertility treatment and transgender care. And the students want improved parental leave options.

Before Tuesday’s meeting with board and university officials, about 20 graduate students rallied on the UI Pentacrest, raising signs that read, “I am not a loan,” and shouting through a bullhorn, “We make a real difference on this campus.”

After presenting their contract proposal, union representatives asked for questions but administrators had none.

The Gazette last month reported compensation-related concerns among graduate students in the UI College of Law. Law research assistants are paid $2,175 for 300 hours of work a year — equal to the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

That, however, is about 13 percent below the UI’s state minimum wage and about 26 percent below the current Johnson County minimum wage, which is expected to increase again in January.

UI officials, in response to the research assistants’ concerns, said they aren’t hourly employees but rather receive salary stipends for their work with faculty as “part of their educational program.”

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