Striking IU grad student instructors pedal a lap through Bloomington’s downtown

Around 12:45 p.m. on Friday, about 60 bicyclists pedaled north on Walnut Street past the Monroe County courthouse with printed signs affixed to their machines that said, “ON STRIKE For Union Recognition.”

The chanted slogans like “What do we want? Union! When do we want it? Now!”

They were members of the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition – United Electrical Workers (IGWC). The members of the IGWC teach classes to undergraduates at Indiana University.

The group voted on Tuesday to continue their strike which started last week. The vote tally to continue the strike was 967 to 27, or 97.3 percent in favor, according to organizers.

Members of the IGWC voted last week to begin the strike, also with better than 97 percent in favor.

The action by the IGWC is considered by the university’s administration to be just a “work stoppage” and not a “strike” by a union.

The university administration’s refusal to recognize the IGWC as a union is the central grievance of the graduate student instructors.

The kind of issues that the IGWC wants to be able to negotiate with the administration as a collective bargaining unit include: elimination of various fees; compensation; benefits; a formal grievance procedure; and equity for international students who are SAAs.

The job title of graduate student instructors within the university’s employment system is student academic appointee (SAA).

On last week’s picket lines, a mathematics graduate student described how he is able to purchase health insurance for his wife and infant son, but it costs $16,800, which is more than his annual salary of $16,000.

Indiana University spokesperson Chuck Carney responded to an emailed question from The B Square on Friday by writing that the administration is continuing to work toward a successful end of the semester for undergraduate students.

Carney pegged the number of canceled classes during the strike so far at “moderately small.” He added that the university has about 2,500 student academic appointees (SAAs), and around 1,000 thousand of them participated in the last strike vote.

Carney wrote, “The vast majority of SAAs have continued to teach and perform the duties they contracted to do as a part of their appointment.”

Indiana University provost Rahul Shrivastav wrote an email to faculty on Friday (April 22) outlining  some of the university’s responses so far. They include the elimination of some fees and establishing stipend minimums of $18,000.

view of the city council table with one seat empty, that of Sue Sgambelluri. A screen with with Zoom feed of the meeting is visibler on the wall.
Eight Bloomington city council members listen to a member of the IGWC speak in support of the resolution that  supported the IGWC’s efforts to win recognition of their union from the IU administration. (April 20, 2022)

Carney also pointed to a 5-percent pay increase that all SSAs will receive.

In their effort to be recognized by the IU administration as a union, the IGWC has received support from local elected officials.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton addressed an early morning picket line last week offering words of encouragement.

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council passed a resolution supporting the IGWC.

The resolved clause reads:

The City of Bloomington supports the rights of Indiana University graduate student workers to unionize and strike, and urges the Indiana University administration to recognize Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition – United Electrical Workers as the chosen representative for graduate workers and enter into good faith negotiations with IGWC-UE.

On the Monroe County council’s work session agenda for next Tuesday is another resolution of support for the IGWC.  The resolved clause for the county council’s resolution will say:

The Monroe County continually seeks to ensure the fairest possible worker safety and compensation standard in the community and supports the efforts taken by the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition to achieve the same fairness.

The vote on the Bloomington city council’s resolution was 8–0 on the nine-member body, because Sue Sgambelluri left the dais and did not participate in the deliberations or the vote. Sgambelluri is director of development for the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University.

Before she excused herself, Sgambelluri said, “I’m a fundraiser and I’m responsible for raising graduate level support for graduate level students. And to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest—I don’t stand to benefit or be disadvantaged financially personally—but just to avoid…the perception that I might not be able to be objective, I’ll be recusing myself from discussion and vote.”