UI graduate student union, Regents open bargaining with wide gulf on wages

By: - February 16, 2023 7:25 pm

Glenn Houlihan, left, who chief campus steward of the University of Iowa graduate student union, Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS), and member John Tappen prepare for a meeting to open collective bargaining with the Iowa Board of Regents. (Photo by Eleanor Hildebrandt for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The University of Iowa’s graduate student union and state Board of Regents’ representatives began their collective bargaining process on Thursday with drastically different proposals.

Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS), the campus’s graduate student union, proposed a 10% wage increase for the 2023-25 contracts. Union representatives also asked for contracts to include minimum remote working days, paid leave for graduate student workers who are parents, and free parking options for graduate students when it is available. 

COGS, also known as UE Local 896, also wants to set early deadlines for appointment letters to be given to graduate students. Caleb Klipowicz, COGS press and publicity committee chair, pointed to chemistry teaching assistants receiving their assignments a few weeks before classes began. 


Representatives for the regents countered with a 3% wage increase. They did not discuss additional provisions in contracts. 

Mike Galloway, chief negotiator and spokesperson for the board in collective bargaining negotiations, said the offer was the minimum the university would be mandated to pay graduate student workers. Different departments, he said, could choose to pay them more. 

Members of University of Iowa’s graduate student union held signs during an initial bargaining meeting with the Iowa Board of Regents on Feb. 16, 2023. (Photo by Eleanor Hildebrandt for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Following the regents’ proposal, COGS president Hannah Zadeh, who works in anthropology, said many students in departments like that get paid the minimum because some departments cannot afford to pay more.

Nearly 30 graduate student workers attended the session, many holding signs reading “grads deserve a living wage” and “defend Iowa education.” After the session Zadeh said in an interview that it was clear the preparation was different for her team versus the regents’ representatives.

“They didn’t ask us any questions and the questions we asked them, they didn’t know the answer to or they told us they’d go and deliberate,” they said. “That speaks volumes. The non-answers are really telling.” 

During the proposal, COGS member John Tappen said the 10% wage increase was inflation-adjusted. He said the current stipends rank among the lowest in the Big Ten. Iowa is only above Nebraska, Purdue and Minnesota in its payments. 

Parental leave

COGS member Flannery Currin presented COGS’ request to maintain current sick days and paid leave for graduate students. She also presented on COGS’ new proposal item, asking for six weeks of fully paid parental leave following the birth or adoption of a new child. 

“Looking at the Big Ten, we are falling behind here as well,” she said. “Seventy-one percent, or 10 out of the 14 universities in the Big Ten, guarantee graduate students paid leave separate from sick leave.” 

Following the proposal presentations, Zadeh and COGS members asked questions about parental leave and why there was no policy added to previous contracts.

Regents representatives said the state currently has no policy for parental leave for state employees, including graduate student workers. 

Kristin Bauer, the regents’ associate counsel and director of human resources and merit systems, pointed to House Study Bill 91, proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The bill would provide four weeks of paid parental leave to state employees for the birth or adoption of a child.

Until a bill is passed, she said, there is little the regents can do.

“It’s difficult to predict what it’s going to look like until we know what it actually looks like,” she said. “… We’ve been very supportive of it (parental leave) for several years, but our hands are tied.”

When asked why Iowa State University could offer paid leave, Bauer said it was from a Bridge Grant. ISU’s policy gives 12 weeks of paid parental leave to graduate assistants, predoctoral scholars, and postdoctoral scholars after birth or adoption. 

The difference between Iowa and other Big Ten institutions, Galloway said, is because of differences in state laws. 

Moving forward

Zadeh said in an interview that they are prepared for negotiations, which begin on Feb. 27 when the two entities meet again in a closed session. Deliberations continue until a final contract is agreed upon. 

“It was really good seeing everyone come out to support this even in a snowstorm, and we know so many more would’ve been here with other weather,” they said. “I’m really excited to keep building up our union because that’s the main point of this.”

Regents and COGS representatives will meet in closed sessions until they come to an agreement for graduate students’ contracts for the next two years. 


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Eleanor Hildebrandt
Eleanor Hildebrandt

Eleanor Hildebrandt is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication and global health studies, with a minor in German. She is a managing editor at the university newspaper, the Daily Iowan, and has served as an reporter intern at Iowa Capital Dispatch.