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COGS to remain in existence, majority of members vote ‘yes’

COGS will remain in existence for at least two more years, following a recertification election required by recent state law.

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COGS to remain in existence, majority of members vote ‘yes’

Thomas A. Stewart

Thomas A. Stewart

Thomas A. Stewart

Katie Ann McCarver, News Reporter

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After a two-week voting period, the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students was recertified for at least two more years of negotiating contracts by a vote of 1559 to 11.

The recertification election is the result of a 2017 law change that affected public employees’ collective-bargaining rights in the state of Iowa. Every two years, bargaining units, such as COGS, vote to recertify their status as the bargaining unit for their respective employees.

For COGS to be recertified as the graduate employees’ bargaining unit, it needed 50 percent of its population’s vote, plus one.

RELATED: Half of state’s collective-bargaining units up for potential recertification

COGS, established in 1996, is a graduate student employee union and serves as a bargaining unit for teaching assistants and research assistants with the university, negotiating contracts biannually.

“COGS is run by graduate students for ourselves,” Szech said. “We’re able to be a negotiation system for students being overworked or underpaid for certain things.”

“This law was very contentious in the state House,” COGS President Laura Szech said. “There were people protesting, tons of people fighting against this.”

Not only does Iowa now require recertification of unions, but the state has also implemented other changes for public unions. For example, Szech said COGS members were forced to develop their own system for paying dues, since they were no longer allowed to collect through payroll.

“I wish people understood how this was designed to make us have decreased power,” Szech said. “That really frustrates me; it feels like silencing Americans.”

At the time the law was passed, GOP state legislators said the law was intended to bring more local control to the contracts and benefits taxpayers.

Szech said the process required COGS members to go online and log in with an abnormal combination of their birthday and social security number.

“We felt like it was purposefully trying to confuse people,” Szech said. “You had to keep confirming your vote.”

RELATED: UI graduate students campaign to get their union, COGS, recertified

The vote in question was what’s known as a “true majority” vote, which means those who do not turnout to cast their vote are automatically considered a no for recertification.

Szech said COGS members had to inform people they were a part of the vote. One of the biggest struggles, she said, is communicating with the approximately 1,900 COGS members, some of whom don’t even realize they belong to the union.

“When graduate students come to the university, they’re not aware that their stipend amount is won by COGS,” COGS Press and Publicity Officer Mark Lanning said. “We’ve been basically just informing people about the fact that they’re in a union. It’s been an immense project.”

In addition to stipend amounts, Lanning said COGS plays a primary role in the classification of graduate students as workers and providing them with substantial healthcare.

“The position of the union is not merely self-preservation,” Lanning said. “I think it’s important for graduate students to recognize that so many of our benefits are because of students before us who were in COGS.”

Lanning emphasized that, without COGS, there would be a dissolution of contract and introduction of the policy handbook, in which the UI or the state Board of Regents could make changes to graduate work without negotiation.

The university communicated directly with eligible voters belonging to COGS, notifying them about access to voting, as directed by the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board, UI spokesperson Jeneane Beck said.

“The UI values the work of our graduate students and the contributions they make,” Beck said. “Graduate education is crucial to the University of Iowa’s mission and to the vitality of higher education.”

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