'UE Works' for University
of Iowa Graduate Employees
IOWA CITY, Iowa
Union members picket a meeting of the University
Board of Regents (above). Local 896 Vice Pres. Julie Schmid addresses membership rally
(below) while contract negotiations are underway.
Negotiations for a second contract between UE Local 896-COGS and the
University of Iowa/State Board of Regents centered on union demands for improvements for
families, confronting the employers preference for the economic status quo and
proposed language changes.
Local 896 succeeded in fighting off the most important language
concessions while securing an agreement with improvements in salaries, health insurance,
pay distribution language and a long-sought non-discrimination clause. Local 896 members
University of Iowa graduate employees ratified the agreement overwhelmingly.
Salaries will increase by 3 percent each year of the two-year agreement.
Nearly half of the classes at the University of Iowa are taught by
teaching assistants and a great deal of the Universitys world-class research is
performed by research assistants, giving power to the UE locals claim: "UI
Works Because We Do!"
Making the families of graduate employees a priority this year, Local 896
fought hard for increased child care assistance. However, the university refused to
bargain, hiding behind Iowa state law which regards child care as a permissive, not
mandatory, topic of bargaining.
The UE local took a hard line on winning an employer contribution to
dependent health insurance coverage. Late into the night at the last bargaining session
the University finally agreed to an employer contribution to dependent coverage similar to
the benefit enjoyed by all other state employees.
Beginning in the first year of the contract, employees and their
dependents will receive approximately a 70 percent contribution towards the purchase of
health insurance. Mental health insurance will be added to the contract in the second
year; dental insurance will be added at a monthly cost of $2.50.
Dependent insurance, said Local 896 Pres. Deborah Herman, "was
a critical issue for our members this year. Graduate employees make, on average, only
$13,000 a year. For many people who have children, that means that health care has been
out of reach. Were very pleased to have been able to negotiate this help for
children and families."
Another major gain is inclusion of a non-discrimination clause as a letter
of understanding. Although this is also a permissive topic of bargaining, the local has
been fighting for language to protect employees from discrimination. Though not yet part
of the formal grievance procedure, individuals are now guaranteed union representation in
such cases if they choose and the union is guaranteed accountability from the employer.
Throughout negotiations rank-and-file members played a key role in
reminding the University that the "UI Works Because We Do!" Informational
pickets and rallies received considerable coverage from local newspapers and television,
helping to inform eastern Iowa citizens of the concrete needs of the people who do so much
to make the University of Iowa a great institution of higher learning. As a result the
University could not ignore the unions issues.
"This second contract is a major step towards providing graduate
employees with decent and humane working conditions," said Jason Duncan, a
history instructor and the locals political action chairperson. "One reason we
achieved this is because of the strength and vitality of our union."
Though much was accomplished in this second contract, union members are
continuing the pressure. "I am pleased with the progress COGS has made,"
commented Jane Simonsen, an American Studies instructor. "I think this
contract has accomplished some of our goals, but there are still things to work for in the
The UE local has already launched a campaign for better child care. A week
after contract ratification, members began circulating a petition in the community and
organizing informational mini-pickets.
The UE Local 896-COGS bargaining committee consisted of Deborah Herman, Tim
Bryant, Tom Comerford, Francois Geneua, Margaret Loose, Danhua Huang and Jon
Rose. They were assisted by District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen and Field Org. Ryan