COGS wins recertification, plans for wage negotiations


Grace Kreber

COGS president Hannah Zadeh poses for a portrait outside Van Allen at the University of Iowa on April 11, 2022. Zadeh became president of the graduate student union at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

Grace Katzer, News Reporter

After the University of Iowa Graduate Student Workers Union (COGS) was recertified on Oct. 25, the group is working to keep graduate students’ voices heard on campus. 

Recertification elections are held every two years to allow eligible voters, who are in the union, to vote on whether they want to recertify the union as their bargaining representative, according to the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board. 

Of 1,934 eligible voters, 1,326, or 68.5 percent, voted in the election, with 1,310 yes votes. 

The 2022 election marked three years since the Iowa Legislature made significant changes to Iowa Code Chapter 20 in 2017, mandating recertification elections for already-established public sector unions before the possibility of negotiating contracts and wages for the student workers.

Caleb Klipowicz, a UI doctoral student and six-year COGS member, said this year’s election was also the first recertification since 2017 without direct support from the national union’s paid staff.

“We are a local union that’s part of a national union called United Electrical,” he said. “After the 2017 law, they were able to send more folks from other places here locally. Their paid staff would work full time for the National Union and were sent to help local unions like us.”

Without the help from COGS’ parent union, it was up to the union to organize and increase volunteering initiatives to win the landslide election, Klipowicz said 

Klipowicz, alongside Glenn Houlihan, UI doctoral. candidate and union member, released a statement on behalf of COGS on Nov. 5 detailing other obstacles the organization had to overcome this election season. 

“The Iowa Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) released an updated bargaining unit list with three hundred additional eligible voters the week before the election,” the release stated. “Many voters had trouble logging in to cast their votes, and PERB initially provided the wrong number to call to vote over the phone.”

Because of the complication in the voting process, the election was extended by an additional three hours. International students, who make up one-third of the unit, experienced trouble with the election process because of insufficient information regarding the voting process.

“Some [international students] feared voting would violate their visa status and risk deportation,” the release stated. “COGS members reassured many who had concerns with a calm phone call, but, unfortunately, that didn’t always work.”

The union used phone banking to reach out to hundreds of people to vote, Klipowicz said. It was a surprise to him when he learned how many people were willing to pick up the phone and talk about the upcoming election. 

“We used just about every idea we could think of,” Klipowicz said. “We sent emails, mass text messages, talked to people face to face, asked other people to follow up with people in their department, and posted on social media.”

However, Klipowicz said voter turnout for recertification elections has been on a downward trend since 2017.  

“We had about 80  percent the first year, then it dropped to the 70 percent range the second time, and then this year we were at 69 percent,” he said. 

COGS President Hannah Zadeh said organizing is one of the union’s greatest strengths. 

“Even though technically the university is legally obligated to inform graduate workers that there is an election, we found there were still so many graduate workers who had no idea about the election,” they said. “We were really doing the work of informing. We talked with departments about why it’s important and why it’s important to have a union for graduate student workers.”

COGS now plans to push for a 10 to 12 percent raise for UI graduate student workers with the state Board of Regents at wage negotiation in January 2023.