Higher education

University of Iowa graduate student union reject new contract offer

Vote now sends the student employees and regents to arbitration

Landon Elkind, president of the University of Iowa graduate student union, the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students or COGS, speaks Feb. 8 at a protest on the UI Pentacrest against a state bill that would gut Iowa’s collective bargaining law. The bill was introduced after COGS started negotiating a new contract with the Board of Regents, but the board refused to negotiate until after the bill had passed and was signed into law. Tuesday, COGs rejected that offer from the regents. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Landon Elkind, president of the University of Iowa graduate student union, the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students or COGS, speaks Feb. 8 at a protest on the UI Pentacrest against a state bill that would gut Iowa’s collective bargaining law. The bill was introduced after COGS started negotiating a new contract with the Board of Regents, but the board refused to negotiate until after the bill had passed and was signed into law. Tuesday, COGs rejected that offer from the regents. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa graduate student union Tuesday rejected a “gutted” contract offer from the Board of Regents after legislators two weeks ago stripped the state’s collective bargaining law of most required negotiation topics.

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, which represents 2,183 grad students who work as teaching and research assistants, overwhelmingly voted down the board’s revised 2017-2019 proposal that offered a 1.1 percent raise — the most allowed under the new law — and stripped out every other commitment.

A two-day call to vote ended Tuesday evening, and few UI graduate students voted to ratify the agreement, which came days after a contentious restart to negotiations that began in the fall.

The board was advised to restart negotiations based on the sweeping changes to state law.

But several campus-based unions have filed complaints with Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board, accusing the state and regents of bad-faith bargaining after officials refused to move forward with initial contract proposals until after the law changed — even after at least two of the unions voted to accept those original offers.

COGS, United Faculty at the University of Northern Iowa and AFSCME Iowa Council 61 — which represents about 40,000 state workers including some at Iowa State University — filed the complaints against the state and regents.

Both COGS and SEIU, a UI Health Care union representing thousands, voted to take the board’s original offers made before the collective bargaining law changed.

UI Graduate College Dean John Keller has publicly vowed to put issues addressed in the contract into new university policy that, for the next two years, would offer the same level of tuition scholarships currently in the contract, maintain health benefits for at least 18 months and increase the percentage of mandatory fees waived from 25 percent to 50 percent.

Tuesday, Keller said he couldn’t comment further about what that policy might look like.

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Graduate students last week criticized Keller and the administration for not knowing more about how they would address the rest of the contract — including overtime pay, vacation, holidays and grievance procedures.

As a result of the no vote, the union and board are headed to arbitration — with a meeting open to the public set for Wednesday morning.

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