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COGS rallies for worker benefits

BY AUDREY ROEN | OCTOBER 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Members of the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students and local union members marched last week in support of better graduate student compensation.

COGS leaders say fair job opportunities and guaranteed benefits remain an important cause and a continued fight for students.

"Whether you're a graduate employee who can join COGS, a nurse who can join the Service Employees International Union, an administrative assistant who can join AFSCME, or a public-school teacher that can join the Iowa State Education Association, the solidarity of Iowa's public employees to protect our rights has never been more necessary," said Kari Thompson, the COGS president, in a recent DI guest opinion.

Thompson and roughly 50 others from COGS and local union workers gathered wielding signs bearing the slogan "This is What Democracy Looks Like" and chanting on the Pedestrian Mall Oct. 7.

Local union members also participated in the march, encouraging Iowa legislators to pass job-creation programs.

"What we do is bargain collectively for all workers to have a better standard of living," said Jana Smith Carr, the executive coordinator of the Communications Workers of America. "We are here to try to show the community that we absolutely have to have jobs."

And with the actions of numerous unions, students, and other groups organizing across the country, the stakes are high, said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City,

"The stakes are all or nothing now," she said. "They have to keep moving toward a collective goal and realize that if changes aren't made, they will lose the battle and lose their rights."

Protesters continued their march to the Iowa Avenue railroad bridge.

The group was also prompted by similar protests taking place that day, including the local "Occupy Iowa" movement. Though COGS didn't "formally endorse" the movement, Thompson said, the two organizations have similar principles — including more accessible health care and equal job opportunities.

"We all have one vote, and we are all one," Thompson said.

Last year, COGS pressed to improve contractual agreements for University of Iowa graduate students that included increased salaries for teaching and research assistants and 100 percent coverage for tuition.

Audrey Altman, a UI grad student and COGS member, said it was her first time participating in a group demonstration.

"I wanted to help send out a public message [and] encourage people to march," Altman said.

Smith Carr said the Communications Workers is a national union with approximately 700,000 members across the country in all different industries.

"What we know is that all of us cannot work against each other, we have to all work together," Smith Carr said. "It's going to take 99 percent of us to effect any change in the system."

DI reporter Rishabh Jain contributed to this story.


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