Text: Indiana Grad Workers’ letter to Indiana University faculty members

The Indiana Grad Workers Coalition sent the following letter to members of the Indiana University faculty Friday in response to a message sent by IU’s provost Rahul Shrivastav to faculty this week. 

Text of the letter follows: 

“April 6, 2022

To Faculty Members at Indiana University Bloomington,

At the Bloomington Faculty Council meeting on April 5th, Provost Shrivastav threatened all graduate workers who might exercise their right to strike. We are thankful for the faculty members who immediately challenged the Provost—before the Provost quickly ended the discussion.

Your support and encouragement throughout this process has helped foster a sense of community amongst faculty and graduate students and workers. We share the goal of improving the quality of graduate education here at Indiana University.

The Provost has warned that unionization would allow an outside third-party–one unfamiliar with our academic culture–to disrupt the relationship between faculty and graduate students. Of course, the IGWC-UE is not an outside third-party. It is, and has always been, led and run by graduate workers here on campus. If anything threatens to disrupt this relationship, it is the Provost’s push for faculty to withdraw support from their students. If anything indicates a lack of understanding of our academic culture, it is the Provost’s willingness to trouble the mentor-mentee relationship with threats to our livelihood.

Below, we clarify the claims made by Provost Shrivastav and provide further details surrounding the Graduate Workers’ efforts towards unionization.

We are proud to have the support of hundreds of IU faculty and staff members, who recognize the importance of Graduate Workers’ dignity of life and how it connects to our academic and professional success, as well as the success of our departments. We welcome your questions and solidarity.

Our thanks to you,

The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition – United Electrical Workers

Provost’s Claim: “As a result of our recent discussions, we have made significant improvements on several issues…”

These “significant improvements” occurred only after the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition – United Electrical Workers called for a strike vote. The timing of the salary increases was the result of concerted effort and action on the part of the Graduate Workers, who were repeatedly told during these “listening sessions” that there was no way for immediate improvements.

While we appreciate any wage increase––and for some students, this has effectively doubled their pay––the improvements cited by Provost Shrivastav do not resolve the deficit between our current pay and the cost of living in Bloomington or inflation. They do not guarantee future improvements in our pay. They do not address critical benefits concerns surrounding parenting, disability, and other equitable accommodations. They do not bring IU salaries up to a competitive rate with our peer institutions.

Provost Claim: I am engaged in an “ongoing dialogue” with graduate workers.

The IGWC-UE has requested meetings with the IU Administration for over two years to discuss graduate worker conditions. Despite dozens of emails and letters, the administration has refused to answer those requests since our last meeting in January 2019. The decision to unionize and then to strike are responses to the permanent intransigence on the part of the administration to engage graduate employees on the issues that concern us. This history has led IGWC-UE to the conclusion that we cannot settle for anything less than full union recognition from the IU Administration.

Provost Claim: Graduate workers are represented by Graduate and Professional Student Government.

The GPSG represents all 10,000 graduate students. It does not represent us as workers. It cannot bargain over our wages, benefits and working conditions. Further, the Administration treats that body with utter disrespect. For instance, it does not recruit search committee members from its ranks but rather randomly selects them. In January, GPSG voted unanimously, 60-0, to endorse unionization. The GPSP President asked Vice Provost David Daleke, the IU Administration’s contact for GPSG, to open a line of discussion between the GPSG, the IGWC-UE, and the Office of the Provost per that resolution. The Vice Provost simply refused to even initiate a process called for unanimously by the GPSG.

Provost Claim: Graduate students sit on the fee committee.

Graduate students who opposed the fees are barred from the fees committee.

Provost Claim: Graduate employee issues are local department issues.

Graduate employee issues are campus-wide issues because to address them will require shifting tens of millions of dollars from central administration to the academic departments. Last week the Provost set a new university-wide standard for pay and implemented a 5% across-the-board wage

increase for all graduate workers regardless of college or department. These were not department-level local efforts but rather exactly the kind of campus-wide efforts for which the union advocates. His own actions undermine his argument.

Provost Claim: A graduate worker union would undermine the academic relationship between advisor and advisee.

Some 80,000 graduate workers are now represented by unions in the United States and countless faculty at IU earned their doctorate as members of graduate worker unions. Our union hopes to set broad campus-wide standards while leaving flexibility at the local level. Currently, our understanding is that in STEM, for instance, PIs are unable to raise the salary of their grad workers because departments insist on parity with low salary levels forced on departments through the central administration’s budgetary restrictions. We seek to liberate PIs to pay RAs a fair price for their highly-skilled labor.

Provost’s Claim: “Some student academic appointees (SAAs) have stated that they wish to be represented by a labor union.”

At this time, over 1700 Graduate Workers have signed union cards, indicating their desire for collective representation and negotiation. This represents a supermajority of Graduate Workers across every department in every college at Indiana University Bloomington.

Provost’s Claim: “This request has been reviewed and responded to by two former Provosts, John Applegate and Lauren Robel. The rationale for this decision is carefully articulated in their responses.”

Simply put, the statements of former Provosts John Applegate and Lauren Robel were poorly received across the entire IU Community, because they demonstrated a deep disconnect from the reality that Graduate Workers experience. Among the claims of these letters was the suggestion that Graduate Workers are “actually” compensated about $52,000 and an argument about how our status as students negates their status as workers––issues long settled in the courts.

Provost’s Claim: “I do not believe that we need a union to improve graduate education and I will not re-visit this decision.”

Provost Shrivastav referred to listening sessions with graduate workers, but he neglected to say that the number one demand during those sessions was for the IU Administration to recognize our
union. Graduate Workers are dealing with an Administration that only listens to what they want to hear. The decision to form a union is one of the Graduate Workers not the Provost. The Graduate Workers are absolutely clear in their preference to form a union. In addition to the supermajority of Graduate Workers, our unionization efforts are backed by hundreds of IU Faculty Members, both the GPSG and IUSG, and local and state labor unions.

Provost’s Claim: “The Indiana Graduate Worker Coalition – United Electric is a third-party entity that will prescribe over academic conducts between faculty members and their advisees.”

The Indiana Graduate Worker Coalition is a democratic body composed of and led by Graduate Workers at IU Bloomington. We are associated with the United Electrical Workers for guidance and support, our policies and agenda are determined directly by IU Graduate Workers. We face a powerful employer who indicates that they are willing to threaten us in order to stop our campaign for fairness. IGWC-UE needs the advice and support of other workers who have faced similarly vicious employers. The IGWC-UE represents graduate workers at several institutions including a recent victory at M.I.T.

Provost’s Claim: A strike by these SAAs will place additional burdens on other graduate students, faculty, and staff who will have to complete any unfulfilled duties.

The IU Administration has the power to avoid a strike by recognizing our union as a collective bargaining agent. Any disruption caused by a strike is the result of the IU Administration’s inaction, not because Graduate Workers are standing up for our own dignity of life and greater equity in higher education.

Provost’s Claim: Delays in submitting grades – even by a few days – may especially impact our 6,000+ low-income students who depend on Federal Pell Grants for enrollment.

To suggest that Graduate Workers do not care for our students’ well-being is hurtful, flagrantly untrue, and deliberately intended to harm our relationship with our students. Graduate workers care deeply about undergraduate education. That mentorship creates a deep bond and commitment. It is also a bond that is threatened by the deterioration of our working and living conditions. Our ability to do our work is negatively impacted by the time we devote second jobs and the stress of finances. The Provost’s attempt to union bust by exploiting the precarity of low-income students is particularly egregious, and stands in opposition to everything the IGWC-UE stands for.

Like us, undergraduate students recognize the connection between our dignity of life and their academic and professional success. We are best able to support undergraduates when we have the resources necessary to focus on our work.

Provost’s Claim: A union grievance procedure undermines academic relationships.

IGWC-UE advocates for a union grievance procedure because we must have a mechanism to adjudicate agreements reached with the IU Administration through bargaining. Bargaining is a process of listening and responding and our bargaining committee, we are confident, will be responsive to faculty concerns. We also must protect graduate employees from extreme cases of arbitrary decision-making or harassing treatment.

Provost’s Claim: Consequences for SAAs who do not fulfill the terms of their SAA agreements … may include, as stated in the Guide: Suspension from work, Termination of appointment, including loss of stipend, tuition remission, health insurance, and other SAA-provided benefits

According to the Guide, “The Bloomington Faculty Council has specified that SAAs shall: … 4) be terminated in mid-appointment only by the procedure specified by the Faculty Council.” The Provost and IU Administration are making clear attempts to turn faculty and staff against Graduate Workers and unilaterally determine the will of the Bloomington Faculty Council. We are grateful for the overwhelming support of the IU Faculty and Staff members with whom we work, and your refusal to give into these tactics.

Provost’s Claim: We all share a responsibility to ensure the teaching and research missions of the university continue, and we need to work together now and in the future to enhance the successes of all students, faculty, and staff.

We agree with this one! There are many ways you can support Graduate Workers as we fight for greater equity at Indiana University for staff, faculty, and students:

  • ●  Sign the faculty pledge of neutrality
  • ●  Learn more about our platform, our union, and why we’re ready to strike
  • ●  Make a donation
  • ●  Join us on the picket line”

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