Frequently Asked Questions
Why does Iowa State University need a graduate student union?
A union is the simplest and most effective way in which graduate student workers can improve working conditions and collectively determine our fate. A union will provide an official platform for collectively affirming and defending our expectations and demands of the administration regarding its policies towards graduate workers and any other matter pertaining to our conditions here. Unionizing will provide a formal process for negotiating and codifying these rights and conditions into a university-wide protected contract.
Without a union, we are each individually (both in the sense of departments and in the sense of individual workers) vulnerable to the economic pressures that the administration faces, which can mean reduced pay, increased fees, and the reduced availability and/or increased competition for assistantships. Graduate student workers at ISU are also currently ineligible for worker’s compensation in the event of injuries sustained while working on assistantship. The university refuses to acknowledge that we are employees, denying us the legal rights and benefits employment status imparts. Additionally, we are vulnerable to the university’s structures of power, having no formal way to petition the university for grievances outside of the university system itself. Generally speaking, we are much stronger facing these concerns collectively than we are individually. Each of us is better off having the support of the rest of us, and this support is not something we can summon at will without first establishing a formal organization in advance.
I haven't heard of graduate student unions before. Has this been tried anywhere else?
There are currently over 50 graduate student unions across the United States, and that number is growing. Graduate students are taking advantage of the current pro-union movement across all private and public sectors to organize in order to protect workers’ rights.
The University of Iowa established a graduate student union, COGS (Campaign to Organize Graduate Students), in 1996. The establishment of their union has allowed them to negotiate significant improvements to the working conditions of their graduate student membership including salary raises, healthcare improvement, family illness and bereavement leave, work and safety rules, and grievance procedures.
Is unionizing legal? Can I get in trouble for participating in these efforts?
Unionizing is completely legal. The right to organize a union is protected by federal law and law in the state of Iowa. It is illegal for employers to engage in discrimination or retaliation toward an employee for participating in organizing efforts.
We recognize, however, that some people would feel safer if their involvement in the unionizing effort was not known to others. Graduate Student Voices takes confidentiality very seriously. We will never, ever share outside the Steering Committee our mailing list or the names of individuals involved in our organization. We will also not respond to requests from any entity or person asking for confirmation that a particular individual is involved with our organization.
What are the risks for international students participating in unionizing activities?
Many international students have a visa type that allows classification as an employee, therefore unionization, and potential employee classification changes will not affect these students negatively. Approximately one third of the University of Iowa’s union membership are international students.
We recognize, however, that international students are especially vulnerable because of their visa status, and some international students would feel safer if their involvement in the unionizing effort was not known to others. Graduate Student Voices takes confidentiality very seriously. We will never, ever share outside the steering committee our mailing list or the names of individuals involved in our organization. We will also not respond to requests from any entity or person asking for confirmation that a particular individual is involved with our organization.
Where are we in the process of forming a union, and what are the next steps?
We are still in the planning and building-support stages of forming a union. We need approximately 400 total graduate workers representing a diversity of departments and programs to express support in order to move to the next stage: the involvement of a national parent union. This parent union will then step in to help us develop a campaign for the broader graduate student body, leading up to a election to formally establish a union. Once we hold the vote, if greater than 50% of the total graduate student body votes yes in favor of forming a union, then we become an officially recognized organization and can begin contract negotiations.
What can I do to help?
The two most important action items for every interested graduate student are:
Sign up for our mailing list acknowledging that you are in favor of forming a graduate student union at ISU.
Help us spread the word about our efforts by talking to your fellow graduate students and asking them to sign up for our mailing list.
Is there a record of my name saying that I support a union? If so, who can see it?
Graduate Student Voices maintains a mailing list, but this list is kept private and is only viewable by the GSV Steering Committee. By signing up for our mailing list, you are only indicating that you want to stay connected, and you are letting us know your current level of commitment regarding organization activities (voter, community builder, or steering committee). Graduate Student Voices takes confidentiality very seriously. We will never, ever share outside the Steering Committee our mailing list or the names of individuals involved in our organization. We will also not respond to requests from any entity or person asking for confirmation that a particular individual is involved with our organization.
If I sign up as a voter, am I officially voting "yes" on a union, or do I have to commit to doing so?
No! If you sign up on our mailing list as a voter, you are counted among your fellow graduate students who think this should be brought to an official vote. We need approximately 400 graduate students interested in holding a vote to unionize (who hopefully would intend to vote ‘yes’ but are not bound to do so) in order for us to move forward with our parent union.
Can I get more involved in Graduate Student Voices' unionizing efforts?
Yes, please! We always need help, and more hands make lighter work. If you are interested in volunteering to help spread the word to other graduate students, please consider signing up on our mailing list as a Community Builder. If you would like to get involved in our campaign planning and organizing efforts, please consider signing up as a Steering Committee Member.
Do I have to pay union dues?
We do not have anything like union dues in place at this point. In the future, when we officially become a union, dues will be incorporated to help support the services provided, such as legal aid for members and benefits negotiators. Graduate students in other unions find that the value provided by the union is absolutely worth the minimal dues.
I’m not a graduate student myself (I’m an undergraduate student, faculty member, staff member, postdoc, alum, community member, etc.). How can I support the unionizing effort?
Thank you for supporting our movement! The most helpful things you can do are:
Passing on or sharing information about the push for unionization, especially through your social media channels.
Showing solidarity with graduate student coworkers, instructors, RAs, and TAs regarding our efforts to unionize.
Do you have a PowerPoint presentation or slides I could use to spread the word?
Yes! A PowerPoint presentation is linked here, and contains slides on our history, mission, and contact information. You are welcome to share it or any part of it as long as you don’t change any of the content. Deleting slides that aren’t relevant to your particular purpose is fine.