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‘Bill the U’

It’s that time of year again. January is the season for icy blizzards and paying U-Bills. The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, COGS UE Local 896, has a response to U-Bills for graduate employees, “Bill the U.”

Our union is engaged in contract negotiations with the University of Iowa and the state Board of Regents. Over the course of the last 16 years, both parties have agreed to improvements to the compensation package of the nearly 2,500 graduate employees, including 100 percent tuition scholarships in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

While this was a great achievement, it is an incomplete success for those outside of the liberal-arts school, who still pay hundreds or thousands of dollars per semester in tuition.

It is further an incomplete success because of “mandatory fees” paid by all graduate employees. These fees have increased at an average rate of more than 14 percent per year for the last 12 years, and collectively, graduate employees at Iowa pay nearly $2 million in fees each year.

Teaching assistants are responsible for approximately two-thirds of undergraduate instructional contact hours at the University of Iowa, yet our salaries and benefits cost less than 8 percent of the university’s expenditures for instruction and research. It is wrong for the university to raise revenues from employees who do so much to make this university work.

While the issue of mandatory fees is a top priority of graduate employees, other important issues should be addressed for a fair contract. These issues include tuition scholarships for those employees who pay tuition above the liberal-arts level, increasing employer contributions for employees with dependents, who currently pay up to $333 per month in health-insurance premiums, and extending our health-care coverage to include infertility treatment and transgender care, which is an issue of equality that the university should readily embrace.

This week COGS launched a “Bill the U” campaign to tell the university and the regents that the system of “pay to work” must end and that fees, like tuition, should be reimbursed. We started a Change.org petition called “Bill the U” that was signed by more than 200 graduate employees in the first hour alone and had 500 signatures in the first day. Sign the petition today, and support a fair contract for graduate employees at the University of Iowa.

Jason Whisler
president, COGS UE Local 896

Going 3rd World

Is Iowa City part of the Third World? I ask this question because the only places that are building skyscrapers are in the Third World. When I was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I listened to a developer bragging about how the skyscrapers he was building in the kingdom and other parts of the Middle East made the capital cities the equal to any in the West.

However, we in the West have learned our lessons about glass-lined skyscrapers. They, regardless of their claim to greenness, waste energy simply because water does not run uphill naturally.

Skyscrapers are needed in crowded urban areas where space is limited and the only place to go is up, not in a large Midwest town like Iowa City where land is plentiful.

As in the Third World, Iowa City is ignoring the will of the people. The College Green neighbors do not want a 22-story skyscraper built on the northern border of their community at Gilbert and College Streets.

Also as in the Third World, the City Council was so anxious to please the local contracting nabob that it skipped the legal step of zoning the parcel of land correctly. This skip looks more like a Pakistan, the most corrupt nation in the world (according to NPR) 15-percenter move than an error on their part.

It seems that one builder gets all in Third World Iowa City.

Mary Gravitt
Iowa City resident

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