Graduate student union joins collective bargaining fight with Des Moines rally tomorrow

Photo by Martin aka Maha
Photo by Martin aka Maha

Some University of Iowa graduate students are joining union leaders for a rally at the State Capitol tomorrow as part of a multi-pronged effort to stand up for preserving their current health care benefits, as well as scholarships for tuition and fees.

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS) is organizing a rally that departs at 8 a.m. Wednesday from the COGS office at 20 E. Market St. The group will be asking legislators to pull back on tentative plans to remove health care from collective bargaining for state workers, including graduate students.

COGS is also asking that tuition and fees remain part of bargaining for graduate student contracts.

“We’ve never had anything so serious in our 20-year history,” said Landon Elkind, president of the group. “Not since we formed, have we been under such serious threat. That’s why we’re looking for the university to stick up for us, and the regents too.”

The group has been busy already, with a rally Saturday on campus that drew about 30 students. It is also encouraging students to reach out to UI Graduate College Dean John Keller and other university officials through letters and personal visits.

The goal: secure a commitment from the university to retain current levels of health care benefits, and scholarships for tuition and fees, even if the Iowa Legislature decides to remove those elements from contract bargaining.

COGS has also held two phone bank events to reach out to people in Republican districts, asking them to contact their legislators and speak out against the proposed changes.

A “Wisconsin-style attack” is how Elkind describes the tentative plans, which were featured in Gov. Terry Branstad’s Condition of the State address earlier this month. Branstad called the current collective bargaining system antiquated and argued that replacing the system with one statewide health care contract would reduce costs. In 2011, the Wisconsin legislature passed a bill that effectively ended collective bargaining for public employees.

Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa, said a bill with the proposed bargaining changes is expected to be released next week. He refused to comment specifically on COGS’ goals or the general proposal being floated, preferring to wait for the proposed bill. Homan did say in general, there’s “no need to change the law” on health care for public workers.

“It’s worked well for 40 years,” he said.

Elkind describes COGS’ efforts as a stand on behalf of all public workers

“We really want to reach Iowans on why our rights are important to them, too,” he said. “It’s important for our economy, even. An efficient state government is a bargain, and we want to recruit great state workers and give them great benefits so we’re not retraining all the time.”

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