COGS union demands higher wages for graduate student workers

Amid rising inflation, graduate students at the University of Iowa prepare to negotiate their salaries with the Iowa state Board of Regents in January. Members of COGS are fighting for living wages that keep up with the cost of living.


Grace Kreber

Poster put up by the University of Iowa COGS at North Hall in Iowa City is seen on Sept. 29, 2022.

Grace Katzer, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Campaign to Organize Graduate Students is demanding higher raises for graduate student workers as they approach a recertification vote within the union and wage negotiation with the state Board of Regents in January.

Caleb Klipowicz, a sixth-year doctoral candidate at the UI department of anthropology, said the process of raising wages is complex, but it’s worth it to fight for living wages for student workers.

“Every two years COGS, as a labor union, represents all of the graduate workers on campus and we renegotiate our contract with the board of regents,” he said. “In the past, we have brought a proposal, and the regents brought a counterproposal which is usually an insultingly low number.”

Klipowicz said an “anti-union law passed by the Iowa State Legislature in 2017 has negatively impacted COGS and made bargaining with the regents nearly impossible.

“Now, the regents can wait long enough without having actual discussions or negotiating with us, and then an outside arbiter is legally required to choose between the lowest amount proposed or a calculated cost of living change,” he said.

Klipowicz said the raise union members received to correct for the cost of living and inflation determined in March 2021 was 1.3 percent, which was below what COGS wanted. Over the summer, the organization was able to bump up the approved raise to 2 percent.

“We used to be one of the top stipends in the Big Ten because we had a union with legal protections that supported us organizing campaigns like this, and we had real wage increases,” he said. “We are now 10 out of the 13 schools for graduate worker salaries.”

RELATED: COGS, state Board of Regents differ on wage increases as contract negotiations begin

For Hannah Zadeh, president of COGS and second-year UI graduate sociology student, raises for workers at the university is all about keeping up with the cost of living.

“We know this year inflation is going to be as high as 9 percent,” they said. “Giving graduate student workers a 2 percent raise is effectively a 7 percent pay cut, and we shouldn’t be calling that a raise.”

Zadeh said the next step is building the union back up to be able to hold the regents’ feet to the fire to get a real raise, such as 10 to 12 percent.

“Our university really does run on graduate student labor, and that’s that,” they said. “If graduate student workers were to say tomorrow that they no longer were going to go into their research labs or into their classrooms, the university would cease to function.”

Giving graduate students a raise is about treating university workers like human beings with basic needs, Zadeh said. Now, COGS is calling for action to get the 2023-25 wages increased.

“We are really trying to pull in graduate student workers to the union and also getting more connected with the community that we live in,” they said. “We need people to respect the important work that we do at this university.”

Flannery Currin, third-year UI graduate student in the computer science department and COGS political action committee chair, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the union is prepared to bargain in good faith but stay true to what they want.

“COGS is powerful because we are a group of smart, hard-working people whose experience collectively spans several disciplines,” she wrote.

Currin wrote COGS fights for higher wages for international students who have extra fees to pay, student parents who are dealing with increased childcare costs, commuter students who have to pay for parking on top of high gas prices, and more.

“Students with these extra costs have extra barriers to completing their programs and are the most impacted by stagnant salaries,” she wrote.

Currin wrote the goals of COGS campaign would bring about positive changes for not just graduate workers, but the broader UI community as well.

“We know how unions, including our own, have won wage increases in the past, and we are in this campaign for the long haul,” she wrote.