COGS union to participate in first-ever Iowa Troublemakers School

Unions across the state are expected to attend the event, which will be held at the Iowa Memorial Union in April.


Emily Nyberg

COGS president Hannah Zadeh poses for a portrait outside the Main Library at the University of Iowa on Jan. 30, 2023. Zadeh has been president of the graduate student union since the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

Grace Katzer, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Campaign to Organize Graduate Students union is bringing the first Iowa Labor Notes Troublemakers School to campus.

The event will bring together union members, labor activists, and local officers from across Iowa on April 22, according to the announcement. The Troublemakers School will serve as a networking event to inspire unionizers and activists.

COGS President Hannah Zadeh said the union attended the national Labor Notes Conference in 2022 and was inspired by the interactive panels and training.

“It was such a great opportunity to connect with organizers across the county,” they said. “Bringing this event to Iowa is important because bringing worker power to the labor movement is how we’re going to improve the livelihoods of Iowans.”

Zadeh said the event is important following legislative developments in the last five years that have prevented graduate student workers from getting “living wages” from the state Board of Regents.

An “anti-union” law, House File 291, signed by former Gov. Terry Branstad in 2017, limited contract negotiations for unions in Iowa, Zadeh said.

The Iowa Troublemakers School event comes in light of an ongoing nationwide labor movement, with organizing happening at universities across the U.S., including:

  • University of California, where 48,000 campus workers participated in a six-week strike that began on Nov. 14
  • University of Illinois-Chicago, where there was a four-day long faculty strike on Jan. 17
  • Temple University, where hundreds of graduate students striked on Jan. 31
  • University of Washington, where librarians, campus employees, and staff walked out on Jan. 25

For UI workers, going on strike is illegal under the 2017 law.

“Organizing and unionizing in a red state with a Republican Legislature is very different from organizing in California or New York,” Zadeh said.

The UI Hospitals and Clinics nurse union, UIHC chapter of Service Employees International Union Local 199, went to wage negotiations in January demanding a 14 percent pay increase. The regents offered them a 1.5 to 3 percent increase instead.

Zadeh said the regents’ offer was an example of how hard it is for workers to get a real raise, Zadeh said.

Bringing trainings to Iowa union members will help people understand how to organize in a red state more effectively, they said.

Caleb Klipowicz, COGS press and publicity committee chair, said the Troublemakers School comes at a time of high-profile strikes and unionizing in Eastern Iowa.

“John Deere, for example, went on strike in Cedar Rapids a couple of years ago, as well as the UI nurses’ union and other university workers, demanding higher raises,” he said. “[The Troublemakers school] is really an awesome opportunity for us to show the university and our community that we are part of a vibrant and growing labor movement.”

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Klipowicz said he expects to see a good amount of engagement from colleagues, members, and people from all over the state. COGS is expecting to see unionizers from John Deere, immigrant and refugee workers at Tyson food processing plants, the Grinnell College undergraduate student union, and many more.

“There will be speakers at the event sharing their experiences as well as workshops teaching participants how to form their own unions and be successful with organizing,” he said. “We will talk about the unique challenges we face here in Iowa, given the strict labor laws.”

The event will not happen just because of COGS by any means, Klipowicz said.

“We’re just happy to help coordinate and plan parts of the event and help get the word out in advance,” he said. “We are really excited to come together as unions from across the state.”