By Chief Campus Steward, Kezia Walker-Cecil
Contact Kezia at [email protected]
Figuring out what your rights are and what you have a right to as a University of Iowa graduate employee can be an exercise in your research skills. Since the labor laws in Iowa changed in 2017, the policies directing your work and your rights as an employee are spread over several documents instead of being housed in one easy-to-find document.
These rights come from several different sources, and here’s a quick breakdown of those sources of your rights as an employee.
(1) You have certain rights just for being an employee in the United States and the state of Iowa. You do not have to be a citizen of the United States or an Iowa resident to have access to these rights. These rights are available to you because you are employed in the U.S. and in Iowa.
(2) You have certain rights based on being part of a union’s bargaining unit. You are part of the bargaining unit for UE Local 896/COGS if you are a graduate student employee with a 25% or more appointment. (Union Contract: https://cogs.org/about-cogs/current-contract-2)
(3) Following the law change in 2017, many policies were removed from the union-negotiated contract. However, the Graduate College adopted many of those policies and included them in the Graduate Assistant Employment policies. As a graduate student at the University of Iowa, the rights laid out in that document apply to you. The complete list of policies is found here: https://www.grad.uiowa.edu/graduate-assistant-employment.
Without further ado, here is a breakdown of (most of) your rights as a University of Iowa employee.
Your Right to Engage in Union Activity
The Iowa Public Employment Labor Relations Act (a.k.a. section 20 of Iowa law) guarantees that all public employees have the right to “organize, form, join, or assist any employee organization.” This law also guarantees that public employers cannot discriminate against or penalize employees who have organized, formed, or joined an employee organization.
Iowa state law also prohibits employers from discouraging employees from joining their unions.
Your Right to a Union Steward
All union members have a right to have a union steward represent/assist them in any investigatory meeting with management. This right is called the Weingarten rights, based on a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1975. This right means that if you have a meeting with your boss (primary instructor, primary researcher, department head) in which you think the conversation may lead to disciplinary action and/or termination, you can bring a union steward with you to the meeting. The union steward is responsible for making sure that your rights as a worker are respected, that you are not being discriminated against, and that your bosses are following correct procedure. (More info on Weingarten Rights and all they entail here: https://www.umass.edu/usa/weingarten.htm)
Your Right to a Grievance without Retaliation
Iowa state law prohibits employers from discriminating against or firing employees who have filed a complaint against their employer.
Your Right to Fair Compensation
All currently enrolled graduate assistant employees at the University of Iowa are covered under the July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2021 contract between UE Local 896/COGS and the Iowa Board of Regents. This contract guarantees the base wages (i.e., minimum wages) for graduate assistant employees for the 2019-2021 academic years. This document also guarantees a 2.1% raise for all returning bargaining unit employees during that time and indicates the salary distribution requirements, both for academic year appointments and for summer session appointments.
Your Right to Not Be Exploited
The Graduate Assistant Employment policy states that an employee with a 25% appointment should expect to work an average of 10 hours a week at the most over the course of their appointment. Employees with a 50% appointment should expect to work an average of 20 hours a week at the most over the course of their appointment. If, over the course of your appointment, you find that you are spending more time on your work than the expected average hours, you are within your rights to grieve against your employer for overwork and to negotiate a change in your employment, whether it be a decrease in your responsibilities or an increase in your pay.
Your Right to a Grievance Procedure
In the Graduate Assistant Employment policy, the grievance procedure is laid out. As a reminder, you have a right to a steward to help walk you through this process. You do not need to do this alone.
Your Right to a Tuition and Fee Scholarship.
The Graduate Assistant Employment policy guarantees that all graduate assistant employees with an appointment of 25% or more will receive a 100% tuition scholarship (based on the tuition rate for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences). These graduate students are also guaranteed a 50% waiver for certain fees.
Your Right to a Safe Working Environment
The Graduate Assistant Employment policy promises that the University will provide a safe work environment.
Your Right to Paid Time Off
The Graduate Assistant Employment policies include policies on paid leave, paid holidays, and sick leave. All employees with an academic year or semester appointment are allowed five working days of absence per semester without a pay deduction, provided that the employee’s supervisor approves that time off. Graduate employees also have the right to be absent due to illness without losing pay for up to 13.5 days during an academic year appointment. These 13.5 days of sick leave can also be used as family illness and/or bereavement leave.
Your Right to Training
The Graduate Assistant Employment policy also includes a guarantee that employees will receive the training necessary for the completion of their jobs. This training can include teacher training, evaluations, training in research and laboratory procedures, and training in administrative requirements.