Press release: “IU Administration Rejects Dialogue Over Graduate Worker Concerns”

The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition sent the following press release to the Bloomingtonian Wednesday:

“2 February 2022
Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition
[email protected]

IU Administration Rejects Dialogue Over Graduate Worker Concerns

Interim Provost and Executive Vice President John S. Applegate responded by letter to the
Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition – United Electrical Workers (IGWC-UE) petition for a union
election. His response rejects dialogue with the graduate workers represented by the union and
offers no solutions to the problems facing graduate workers at IU.

Last semester, IGWC-UE members submitted 1,584 union cards to the IU Board of Trustees,
calling on the University to hold an official union election in accordance with their HR 12-20
policy. The union’s goals include a living wage and an end to burdensome mandatory fees.
Our organization is disappointed that the IU Administration has decided to deny a request made
by a majority of graduate workers to be represented by a union in order to address issues critical
to our success as employees and students. As the Interim Provost indicates, there are no laws that
would prohibit the Indiana University Administration from engaging in a dialogue with
IGWC-UE. University policies such as HR 12-20 clearly provide a framework for the
relationship for which we petitioned, as endorsed by over 100 faculty members and campus
chapters of AAUP and CWA. This decision is an attempt by the Administration to ignore the
needs of graduate workers and to foreclose any discussion of our concerns.

The letter astonishingly suggests that graduate workers are not really workers – even though
graduate workers perform much of the labor crucial to IU’s mission. This includes teaching
nearly 700 classes and performing research that generates millions in grant money. Some
graduate workers perform administrative roles that have little to do with their academic research.
The issue of graduate workers as workers has been litigated repeatedly. The National Labor
Relations Board recognizes graduate workers as workers, as do most states where there is public
sector bargaining.

This initial rejection is to be expected. Every graduate worker campaign begins with the
University rejecting a petition for recognition and then relenting only after membership-based
campaigns bring attention to the plight of graduate workers. We had hoped that IU would be
different and would be enthusiastic about creating a productive working relationship that would
serve the university as a whole. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.
“IGWC-UE is stronger than ever. Our union is here and we are not leaving. We have over 1,600
members and recently announced over 80 Union Representatives in almost every academic
department. Our members are deeply committed to fixing graduate education at Indiana
University. Now we just need an Administration which is not afraid to talk with its graduate
student workers,” said Anne Kavalerchik, Sociology and Informatics student and coalition
“We are not too surprised. Every petition for a union is rejected by the employer at first. At
Illinois or Iowa, Columbia or NYU, all of them were forced into a campaign to win union rights.
I was holding out hope that maybe Indiana would be different,” added Ph.D. student in Biology
and Informatics Pat Wall.
“Our members are tired of reading about millionaire administrators while we barely scrape by.
Provost Robel was paid $888,000 in 2020. President McRobbie was provided a $500,000 bonus
payment in his final months in office, yet many of us who teach, perform, and research have to
seek out food assistance programs,” explained Drew Heiderscheidt, Geography Ph.D. student
and member of IGWC-UE.

“It seems unbelievable that on a university campus the Administration and Board of Trustees are
afraid to even sit down and dialogue with its graduate student workers. Aren’t we supposed to
value open discussion and the exchange of ideas? This Administration seems to have no interest
in that,” said Sam Smucker, a Ph.D. student in Media Studies.
Union graduate workers at IU are seeking increased wages, an end to mandatory and
international fees, improved benefits, an external grievance procedure, and fairness for
international students by forming a union.
Graduate workers are employed as Associate Instructors, Research Assistants, Graduate
Assistants, and Faculty Assistants on the Bloomington campus. They teach over 700 courses
as primary instructors, conduct research in labs, and perform as artists and musicians.
In the course of their union drive, IGWC-UE has gathered support from the Graduate and
Professional Student Government (GPSG) as well as from a wide range of IU faculty. In
November, the GPSG passed a resolution that iterates the rights of graduate workers to organize
a union and calls on IU to refrain from intervening in the union process. Later in the month, a
diverse array of IU faculty circulated a letter that further details graduate workers’ rights and 2 February 2022 insists on the University’s neutrality with regard to unionization. The letter gathered signatures from over 100 IU faculty members.

The United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) is an independent,
democratic union representing some 30,000 employees in a variety of industries. The UE’s
motto is: “The members run this union.”

Courtesy photo

Shobha SV, Media School, and Aditi Dhammachakra, School of Education

Courtesy photo

Coalition members celebrate delivering nearly 1,600 union cards to the Board of Trustees in December

For further questions and correspondence, contact Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition
media correspondent, Cole Nelson ([email protected]).
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