UI COGS gears up for contract agreements

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students is set to meet with the state Board of Regents later this month to discuss worker contracts.


Shuntaro Kawasaki

COGS protesters are seen in front of the Old Capitol in Iowa City on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.

Natalie Miller, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS) is once again hoping to see an increase in wages and stipends as its meeting with the state Board of Regents approaches.

The organization plans to negotiate for specifically a 10 percent wage increase and parental leave, along with other permissive topics.

COGS is set to meet with the regents on Feb. 16 to discuss its upcoming contract renewal. Hannah Zadeh, the president of COGS, said the group bargains a new contract with the regents every two years.

Zadeh said they know COGS’s demands will be a long-term fight, and the group will continue to build its union while doing so.

“Our power really comes from the rank and file and comes from the people,” she said.

According to data from COGS, the UI is ranked 11th worst for graduate student stipends compared to the other 13 Big Ten universities. The UI’s base wage for a teaching assistant or research assistant on a 9-month contract is $20,708. At Northwestern University, the Big 10 university with the highest graduate student stipend, teaching assistants and research assistants receive $34,176 as a base wage.

Flannery Currin, COGS Political Action Chair, said the group is currently dealing with the repercussions of a legal change in 2017 that has limited what can be bargained between public sector unions and the state of Iowa. Under this legal change, the regents are only required to bargain base pay but are not obligated to discuss any other benefits COGS may request.

Another factor influencing COGS’s demand for an increase in wages is that graduate students are struggling with living costs due to the 9 percent inflation rate in Iowa, Currin said. In 2020, the regents presented UI graduate students with a raise of 1.3 percent, but that percentage will not satisfy the COGS members this year.

“We’re looking for 10 percent, and that’s to try and get ahead of the 9 percent raise of cost of living just due to inflation changes,” he said. “Even though it sounds like a 10 percent raise is huge, a 9 percent raise would be no functional raise.”

Jacob Payne, a member of COGS, said the union tries to reflect all graduate students’ needs and wishes.

“We are representing all graduate student workers, not just the people who are actively participating as members,” he said. “We represent everybody who’s like us.”

COGS members are requesting that the regents bargain with them over other topics along with the base pay discussion. The group made five additional requests to their contract proposal this year, including:

  • An allowance of a minimum of 20-25 days of remote working days per year
  • 12 weeks of paid parental leave
  • Access to free parking and/or reimbursement of parking and/or bus fees
  • Access needs to be met
  • Access to safe working conditions and personal protective equipment.

Josh Lehman, senior communications director for the regents, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the regents plan to follow the typical bargaining process.

“The Board of Regents values all our employees, as they enhance the quality of teaching, research and service at Iowa’s public universities. We will follow the collective bargaining process in negotiations. At the first session, each side will exchange initial bargaining proposals for a successor agreement to the one currently in place, which expires June 30, 2023,” he wrote.