COGS has benefits worries

A+COGS+protester+holds+a+sign+in+the+Office+of+the+President+in+Jessup+Hall+during+a+COGS+protest+on+Monday%2C+Jan.+30%2C+2017.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FLily+Smith%29

A COGS protester holds a sign in the Office of the President in Jessup Hall during a COGS protest on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

COGS & UI grad students fight for their benefits by going in person.

By Jason Estrada

[email protected]

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students and University of Iowa graduate-student workers stopped by University of Iowa administrators’ offices on Monday to show their concern about losing their health coverage and tuition scholarships.

COGS President Landon Elkind and many UI graduate workers organized to have their voices heard. The UI and the state Board of Regents have not yet guaranteed that the graduate workers’ health insurance and tuition scholarships will be kept. This is because of the potential changes in Chapter 20 that the Iowa Legislature is considering, which would mean workers could lose these benefits.

“Assistantships are broadly considered to be the best way to fund graduate school,” according to a statement that was passed on to UI President Bruce Harreld and Graduate College Dean John Keller. Without their insurance and scholarship, graduate students say many of them will not be able to cover their school costs.

Health coverage was especially crucial to three UI graduate-student workers due to dire illnesses.

As a result, they went to the President’s Office & the Graduate College Dean’s Office in person. Harreld, however, was gone all day because of budget meetings, and Keller was not available.

Although the graduate-student employees couldn’t speak to Harreld or Keller, they spoke to Ashley Huber, the administrative services coordinator of the President’s Office, and Wendy Danger, assistant to the Graduate College dean. Elkind gave them his contact information and COGS’ personal statement to be passed on to Harreld and Keller.

“We want the university to publicly commit to there not be any cuts to our benefits if such benefits become prohibited topics of bargaining,” Elkind told Huber.

Elkind and the other graduate-student workers told Huber and Danger their stories and how the UI’s refusal to guarantee their benefits may affect them in the future.

Some of the graduate-student workers were not just there for themselves but for their friends who are graduate students and even undergraduate students. They worry about the learning environment at the UI.

Matthew Girolami, a UI teaching assistant and member of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, said he attended the event because he is afraid of losing health insurance and his tuition remission.

“The idea of those being taken away, while I teach here as well, is not feasible, not possible, and I don’t think I’ll continue to be able to teach and live in Iowa City and devote my time to my students without taking on multiple jobs,” Girolami said.

If the concerns the workers addressed are not addressed, Elkind said, he and others will take action.

“We will not stand idly by while our health care and tuition scholarships are taken away,” he said

Jason Whisler, a field organizer for the Iowa chapter of the United Electrical Workers, a union representing workers in a variety of manufacturing, public sector, and private nonprofit sector jobs, was a former president of COGS. He attended the event to also help the graduate-student employees and reach out to the UI and the regents.

Whisler said if their actions won’t go through, then many of the graduate students will most likely have to leave or go further into student-loan debt.

“The prestige of the university will decline as the best of the brightest would choose other institutions that still provide those benefits,” he said. Our peer institutions throughout the Big Ten, like Michigan in particular, will have a huge advantage over the University of Iowa. That will decrease the quality of education for our undergrads, decrease the quality of scholarships, and artistic work coming out of our university as well.”

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