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Graduate Students Officially Launch Union Campaign

IU Graduate students at a town hall

IU graduate workers sit at the Conrad Prebys Amphitheater at a town hall where they officially launched unionization efforts. (Devan Ridgway, WFIU/WTIU)

More than 100 Indiana University graduate students showed up to officially launch their campaign to unionize Thursday. The group has the support of the national United Electrical Workers union. 

Graduate workers held a town hall at the Conrad Prebys Amphitheater in the heart of campus citing wages below the cost of living and hundreds of dollars in mandatory fees as some of the reasons for unionization. 

Graduate worker John Garbero said the university has not been responsive in previous attempts to improve the working conditions of grad workers. 

“Standing here in the backyard of the president of IU, I’m proud to say, and I hope she hears me along with every other administrator on this campus, that the graduate workers at IU want a union,” he said. 

IU Spokesperson Chuck Carney said he has no comment on what IU’s response will be to the unionization efforts.  

Speaker Valentina Luketa said some students haven’t been able to pay rent, have worried about not being able to buy food and even sold their plasma to make ends meet. 

People have told her the $50,000 the grad workers get in tuition payments are part of their pay, but Luketa said that can’t be used to pay rent or buy food. 

Graduate worker Shira Buchsbaum in the masters of library science program said she sees her peers working 30 to 40 hours a week on top of their course load. She said people have told her to be grateful her work is self-fulfilling. 

“But gratitude doesn’t pay for rent or utilities… gratitude is not the same as a living wage,” she said. 

Because international students can’t typically work off-campus, finances can be difficult, international student and grad worker Simon Luo said. 

When it comes to unionization, Luo said international grad students have the same rights as U.S. citizens and shouldn’t fear retaliation. 

“This is the time we demand what’s long overdue: equality, justice and respect,” he said. 

More than 1,000 graduate workers on campus have signed a union card. The workers say according to IU Policy, if at least 30% of graduate students sign union cards, IU will hold a vote to recognize the union. The coalition is trying to get a majority of grad workers to sign the cards before a vote is held. 

The coalition is hosting an organizing meeting at the Monroe County Public Library on Sunday at 4 p.m. 

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