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IU graduate student workers prepare to strike for union

IU graduate union buttons

Last month, university administrators rejected a request from the workers to hold a union election. (George Hale, WFIU/WTIU News)

A coalition of graduate student workers seeking to form a union at Indiana University met Saturday with strike leaders from other campuses.

The dialogue comes as workers are deciding how to proceed after university administrators ignored their request to hold talks on forming a union in recent weeks. 

READ MORE: IU rejects graduate worker request to hold union election

“We’re in the process of preparing for a strike,” said Katie Shy, a third-year PhD student in the English department at IU and an area coordinator for the union push.

“We are hoping that we don't have to go on strike. We’re hoping that the administration will come into dialogue with us and agree to recognize our union before that happens.”

Last month, IU rejected a request from the workers to hold a union election.

IU policy recognizes some staff unions but views graduate student workers primarily as students, and they get benefits beyond stipends.

Still, dozens of IU faculty members and some Indiana unions are backing the workers.

Shy didn’t spell out her group’s precise plans but said Saturday’s town hall with colleagues at Columbia University and the University of Michigan offered a glimpse into a possible near future on campus in Bloomington. 

READ MORE: Labor professor: IU graduate students are workers

“We also heard from our colleagues (at other universities) just how much support they were able to get from across their campuses—from their faculty, from their undergrads, from their communities,” Shy said.

“And so that was really encouraging because our grad workers, they’re talking to other people in their departments. But it's really important to have this sense of the larger picture of everyone coming together,” she said.

University administrators held listening sessions on Feb. 23 and March 3.

But the student workers want to hold meetings through other channels including the IU Graduate and Professional Student Government.

“Disappointingly, the administration has not met with us through any of the channels we've tried to open up,” Shy said. “And we've sent them, as a coalition, repeated requests.”

READ MORE: Labor federation endorses union push from IU grads

Earlier this month, the regional affiliate of the Indiana AFL-CIO threw its support behind the graduate students in a statement of solidarity.

Officials with the Southern Indiana Area Labor Federation, which represents unions in 42 counties, including Monroe County, said the statement aimed to show IU that the workers had support from members of their community.

More than 130 faculty members at IU, the IU Graduate and Professional Student Government, and local chapters of the American Association of University Professors and the Communication Workers of America have also expressed support.

A university spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to messages over the weekend.

Phyllis Cha and Justin Hicks contributed to this report.

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