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Grad Student Union at Illinois State University make demands during new contract negotiations

Written by on May 1, 2023

NORMAL, Ill. – Since March 21, the Illinois State University Grad Student Union (GSU) has been bargaining for a new contract with ISU. They are seeking better work benefits and better pay. 

The negotiations between the GSU and ISU has spanned months and affects almost 500 graduate teaching assistants. Among those affected are Steven Lazaroff and Rebekah Mangels, two graduate students who are putting their foot down and are hoping that ISU will pay them livable wages. 

For years, grad students have been protesting to earn the money that they believe they are owed. With the clash still ongoing, Lazaroff said he thinks the reason why the University continues to push back is due to a lack of care for students’ time and efforts. 

“They don’t consider our poverty a problem… It’s part of their success,” Lazaroff said. “For them, they would have to restructure the whole University, which I personally believe that’s what it takes in the long run. They pay people a lot of money to not pay us.” 

This year the GSU’s contracts are up, therefore the union must bargain for a contract either way. Mangels said that this time around, they are looking to earn more money than their last contract as well as better benefits for graduate students. 

“We’re pushing for better benefits, reduction of student fees, better accommodations processes. Anything that is going to help make our job a lot easier,” said Mangels. “At this point, the grad students are living below the poverty line, we’re not making a living wage, we’re not able to be accommodated properly and we think that is affecting the entire student body, because grad student conditions are student learning conditions.”

Using resources through the internet, the union has facts and evidence to support their claim that the University is allowing their grad students to live in poverty. Lazaroff clarified that the cost of living in Bloomington-Normal is much higher than what their pay can sustain. 

“Speaking about figures here, the cost of living in Bloomington-Normal, from the MIT cost of living calculator, is $33,030,” said Lazaroff. “Our average member is probably around $11,500 or something, and that’s generous. That’s a huge gap and we’re trying to address that right at the logical hinge that they used to keep us from money that we deserve, quite frankly. It’s why we struggle so much.”

Since the bargaining started over a month ago, the union has been trying to get as many grad students on board with the negotiations. Mangels said that it is important to their efforts that every grad student’s voice is heard. 

“Right now, the most important part of our mission is to get as many grad students on board with this mission as possible. If you’re seeing this and you’re a grad student today, we need your help, we absolutely want you to be a part of this mission and we absolutely don’t want to exclude you from our cause, because we think that all grad students deserve a voice on campus,” said Mangels.