Press release: Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition demands vote for union election and a living wage

The following was sent to the Bloomingtonian:

Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition
[email protected]


BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition (IGWC) submitted a formal
union election demand to the Indiana University administration on Tuesday, January 16, 2024.
At approximately 2:00 p.m., a group of IGWC representatives delivered a letter addressed to
President Pamela Whitten that specifically asks the IU administration to pay its graduate
workers, or Student Academic Appointees (SAAs), a living wage and to provide a pathway to
union recognition. The letter asks President Whitten’s office to respond by January 29.
The letter requests a pathway to unionization that would mirror the typical process established by
the National Labor Relations Board. Graduate employees would vote to indicate their interest to
be represented in collective bargaining, and IU would abide by this decision and negotiate a
contract with an elected negotiating committee of graduate employees.
“There is nothing that restricts the administration from engaging in this simple exercise of
democracy and guaranteeing a bargaining process should grad employees vote in favor of that,”
said Sam Smucker, a PhD candidate in the Media School. “It is what Starbucks workers are able
to do across the country almost every week. Certainly, IU should be more democratic than

The demand for union recognition and a living wage reflects a majority of SAAs. Almost 1,300
signatories were included with the letter to the administration in support of the demands for a
living wage and a union election.

Current SAA contracts disburse a minimum of $22,000 to workers for 10-month contracts.
IGWC asks the administration to pay SAAs a living wage, as prescribed by the MIT Living
Wage Calculator, which amounts to a minimum of $27,973 for 10-month SAAs and $33,568 for
12-month SAAs.

“When you’re a graduate worker, you’re often underpaid, overworked, and stuck in situations
where people in authority over you have all the power,” said James Slaughter, a graduate student
in Economics. “And if one of those people is exploiting you, the university unfortunately offers
too little protection. But by coming together in a union, I have seen how we as graduate students
can win incredible victories, like how we eliminated mandatory fees and have raised stipends
repeatedly. When we join together, organize together, and fight back, we can protect ourselves
and make this university a better place for all.”

The letter also cites the IGWC’s concern that the administration is refusing to practice shared
governance. This policy guarantees that the administration will share decision-making authority
with other governing bodies on campus.

The Bloomington Faculty Council, the governing body for IU Bloomington faculty, voted back
in April 2022 to endorse a pathway for the administration’s recognition of a graduate worker
union. The final count tallied 1,404 in favor to 509 against. The administration has yet to act on
the BFC’s resolution.

During the strike in 2022, IGWC also received endorsements from the IU Graduate and
Professional Student Government, Bloomington City Council, Monroe County Council, IU
Student Government, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and hundreds
of IU alumni.

A copy of the IGWC demand letter can be found here.

ABOUT IGWC (—The IGWC was founded in 2019 to advocate for
graduate workers with the primary purpose of eliminating exorbitant fees and increasing pay.
IGWC actions, including a massive four-week strike in the Spring of 2022, successfully brought
an end to the fees and forced the IU administration to shift funds into graduate education,
significantly improving the lives of graduate employees in Bloomington. There are
approximately 2,400 SAA graduate employees on the Bloomington campus. Graduate workers
are employed as Associate Instructors, Research Assistants, Graduate Assistants, and Adjuncts.
Others are employed on an hourly basis. They teach hundreds of courses as primary instructors,
conduct research in labs, and perform as artists and musicians.
For further questions and correspondence, contact Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition
media correspondent, David Garner ([email protected]).
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