Updated Fall 2023

What is COGS?

COGS is your graduate student labor union. We are graduate workers organizing for our collective benefit. We are legally recognized by the state to negotiate terms of employment for graduate workers at the University of Iowa.

Why have a union?

In short: the bosses are organized, so we need to be too! Our wages are getting lower in real terms every year (lagging behind inflation); graduate workers do not have paid parental leave; graduate workers often find themselves in abusive or coercive situations, with few options for help.

Without a union, graduate education is more costly, more stressful, and less accessible – particularly to people with marginalized identities and/or immigration statuses and/or who have fewer financial resources.

With a union, we have the power to fight for our collective benefit and make graduate education what we want it to be. As the COGS saying goes: Collegiality won’t pay your bills!

What does COGS do?

A grad holds a sign reading "Under staffed, under valued, under paid, over worked."

We fight for graduate workers. Whereas HR and other university offices are fighting to protect the university’s bottom line and liability, we are fighting for you. Full stop.

Since COGS was established in 1996, we have won…

  • Full tuition remission
  • 50% reduction in mandatory fees
  • Better healthcare – with UI paying 90% of single premiums & 70% of dependent premiums
  • Protections against overwork & an effective grievance procedure
  • …and more!

But COGS also works everyday to make sure that graduate workers rights, per university policy and our contract, are protected. Every semester, we help graduate workers win back pay from overwork and we help graduate workers organize their workplaces for better working conditions.

How do I know if I am in the union?

If you are a graduate student with an academic appointment at the University of Iowa, you are more than likely part of the COGS bargaining unit – that means that when we bargain a contract, you are covered by that contract.

However, because Iowa is a right-to-work state, graduate student workers are not automatically a member of COGS. That means everyone is covered by the contract and benefits from our wins, but only COGS members pay monthly dues to the union, have a vote in what we do, and are able to run for leadership positions.

What if I’m not in the bargaining unit?

Although most teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) are in the COGS bargaining unit, there are some whose positions are not covered (Why?), particularly in the biomedical sciences. The University has pushed for exclusions from the bargaining unit in order to try and suppress the union’s power.

If you are not in the bargaining unit, you are not guaranteed a raise when we bargain for raises to our base pay in our contract. However, you are still covered by University policy like all graduate workers are. As a union, a big part of our work is ensuring that the University is not violating university policy and helping workers to organize their workplaces and file grievances when violations or other injustices do occur.

Additionally, we aim to serve as an organizing hub for graduate students. That means we know that the conditions we work under are unjust (including conditions that are allowed under university policy and our contract) and we are fighting for a better workplace, standard of living, and graduate education for all of us.

So if you are not in the bargaining unit because you are on fellowship or are a TA/RA which the UI has excluded from the bargaining unit, we encourage you to still become a member of COGS and organize!

Why become a member and pay dues?

Without dues, our union will cease to exist. All the funds we need to organize everyday, including the rent for our office and the materials to organize, are funded by dues money. We have a budget report at every monthly General Meeting so everyone knows and has a say in what their dues money is going to. You can become a member by clicking here!

Can international students join COGS?

Yes! International students are critical to our union. All of the issues we face are felt most acutely by international students and our union would not be what it is today without the work of international students’ organizing.

Are unions legal? 

Yes! Public employees in Iowa have the legal right to unionize, per Iowa Code Chapter 20. You can read more about Iowa public sector labor law here.

Who runs COGS?

COGS is run by graduate student workers like you. Every year COGS members elect graduate workers to be on the Coordinating Committee (CC) to make important decisions about what issues we organize around.

When was COGS started?

Graduate students in Iowa unionized in 1996 as the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students with the national union of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE). Read more about COGS history here. Why organize with UE? Graduate workers were drawn to UE’s rank-and-file unionism. We wanted a union run by and for graduate workers.

What does a union do?

A union is a group of organized workers who join together to improve our lives and working conditions by organizing to demand higher pay, better benefits, life-saving safety measures, and more.

In the absence of a union, individual workers get whatever they can beg for. With a union, workers leverage our collective power to bargain with our employer to get things like health care and tuition coverage. (At UI, we have both of these things because COGS fought for them!) 

Employers—particularly a state university—are powerful and well-resourced. Unionizing harnesses the power of workers.

Read more about the surge in graduate student worker unionizing here.

Wait…why do I see a line on my U-bill that says COGS fees? 

This represents the 50% reduction in mandatory fees our union won – note that it is a credit (not a payment)!