Indiana University graduate workers help Johns Hopkins, Northwestern unionize this year (2023)

While her peers were entrenched in research, on a shift at their second job, or teaching a class on campus, Indiana University graduate student Zara Anwarzai spent a chilly day in January holed up inside the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago, listening with bated breath as the National Labor Relations Board staff began a slow, laborious count of 1,758 ballots.

The vote at hand? Whether Northwestern University graduate students would formally unionize, crossing the finish line that their IU peers are still chasing.

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While their fight on the Bloomington campus continues, Anwarzai is among a handful of IU students taking what they learned from the months-long strike to help graduate students across the country unionize.

Working with national labor organization United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), their efforts have contributed to the campaigns at several prominent universities, including Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago and Dartmouth, as part of a nationwide wave of thousands of graduate workers unionizing just this year.

Indiana University graduate workers help Johns Hopkins, Northwestern unionize this year (2)

"The more organized grad workers we have at Johns Hopkins or Dartmouth, we hope it's that much easier for graduate workers at another campus to form a union," IU graduate worker Katie Shy said. "The power of all of these campaigns bargaining at the same time means that we can really push the standard in graduate education and, as each union contract is stronger, we know that that lays the groundwork for the next campus."

Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern graduate workers all voted to unionize this year. Why now?

Across the country — at colleges big and small, private and public — thousands of graduate workers have been increasingly signing union cards and turning up in droves at the polls.

To IU graduate worker Sam Smucker, who has some background as a labor union organizer, this is far from a coincidence.

"With the grad workers, it's really because higher education has increasingly, I think, moved to a model where you've got very high-paid administrators sorting resources, in what they consider to be money-making kinds of projects as opposed to bringing money into the classroom. And one of the ways they've attempted to keep these resources is by holding down salaries of employees," Smucker said. "So grad employee salaries have just not kept pace with the cost of living."

Indiana University graduate workers help Johns Hopkins, Northwestern unionize this year (3)

Smucker references his own department at IU Media School, where he says in 10 years, there'd only been two raises.

"That's, I think, somewhat typical across the country for what's going on with grad workers," Smucker explained. "There is increasingly, in higher ed, a class system that's developing. You get very high paid administrators who don't come out of the institution that they're administering — they're not professors who raised through the ranks and who really cared about the institution. These are folks who come in for five years and they see their job as to try to reduce costs and then move on (to another university). And the result is that educational programs are diminished while they attempt to put resources into buildings and raising donations."

Smucker describes this moment as "a huge wave" across the nation that is ramping up to be a full-fledged movement of worker rights in the higher education realm. One of the institutions taking part is Northwestern University, where Anwarzai was the direct touchpoint between graduate students and the national labor affiliate, UE.

"It was really exciting and really nerve wracking because I had never led such a big campaign on my own," Anwarzai said, noting Northwestern has around 3,400 graduate workers.

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Though she isn't enrolled at Northwestern, instead going to school at a competing university over 200 miles away, this election was personal to Anwarzai. It was the culmination of many sleepless nights, hours-long commutes and intense campaigning on the Chicago and Evanston campuses.

During the ballot count in January, the "no" votes were totaled first. Anwarzai felt a pins and needles sensation building at the nape of her neck.

"It's pretty intense, where you're just like, 'Oh, my God, like, stop now,'" Anwarzai recalled.

Eventually, it did stop — at 114. Then the "yes" votes were carried in. In boxes. Plural.

"That feeling was honestly one of the most incredible of my life. I was, like, crying at 800 (yes votes)," Anwarzai said. "And then it just kept going and going."

In the end, those no votes were overwhelmed by a 1,644-yes majority. Northwestern graduate students formally unionized, joining the UE and subsequently receiving union recognition from university administration.

Anwarzai took that day to celebrate, followed by two days off to recharge.

"Then I went straight (back) to Chicago for the lead up to (University of Chicago's) election," Anwarzai said.

It was on to the next one. The work, it seemed, was never finished.

Indiana University graduate workers help Johns Hopkins, Northwestern unionize this year (4)

From local strike to union elections across the country: How IU grad workers have fed a movement

To proponents of a labor union, a collective bargaining agreement levels the playing field with the employer; employees have more power to negotiate pay, benefits and other employment terms and conditions. Some employers, including the IU administration, pushed back against formal unionization, claiming it places an unnecessary middle man in the employee-employer relationship and isn't appropriate for graduate workers since their work is tied to their education.

In order to pool resources and have access to a pre-existing structure, small, independent labor unions often partner with national labor union organizations such as the UE, whose membership includes "rail crew drivers, hospital workers, co-op workers, federal contract workers, teachers, paraeducators, clerical workers, graduate workers, scientists and librarians," per its website.

The UE, which self-claims to also stand for "union for everyone," was the independent union that 2,000 IU graduate workers, through the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition, partnered with in midst of the Bloomington campus labor dispute last year.

At IU, Smucker saw graduate workers were dealing with the same sort of labor struggles he had fought against 25 years before. Prior to landing at IU as a graduate worker himself, Smucker worked for UE, playing a major role in a graduate worker union campaign at the University of Iowa.

During the months-long strike at IU Bloomington in 2022, Smucker and a few other leading organizers were approached by the UE to help out at other universities, where the graduate worker population was interested in unionizing but did not have the resources or knowledge on how to start.

Lending his skillset, Smucker was the key UE organizer at the University of Chicago, which overwhelmingly voted in favor of unionization just last month.

Indiana University graduate workers help Johns Hopkins, Northwestern unionize this year (5)

"At the University of Chicago, when they kicked off their campaign, speakers at their meeting explicitly talked about (IU) and how it was an inspiration to them for going ahead and starting their own union drive," Smucker said. "I think the fact that we had carried out this big strike — by that time, we had won big pay increases. That was really inspiring for a lot of people."

Transparency is vital, as it opens opportunities for graduate workers across all campuses to re-examine ways their university could do better. Anwarzai shared how graduate workers at the University of Michigan talking about dependent health care made her reassess and consider how IU could improve its own health benefit system.

"To be honest, it's often hard to figure out what you can actually ask for, right? (That issue) didn't even occur to me," Anwarzai said.

Sometimes, successful union elections result in administration recognition, but not always. For example, Illinois, where the University of Chicago and Northwestern University are located, has better union election and protection laws than Indiana.

While speaking with The Herald-Times recently, Shy was nearly a thousand miles away, helping Dartmouth College set up and ready its polling locations for a union election that was hours away. She'd just ridden the high of successfully unionizing graduate workers at Johns Hopkins, but Dartmouth's victory was stymied when its administration tried to challenge some of the ballots.

The Bloomington campus strike was an instrumental learning experience for Smucker and other IU graduate workers, he said.

"It gives you this ability to move people around and sort of have lots of resources and critical moments," Smucker said. "And people are happy to do it usually because they've learned the skills of organizing in their own university and that they can easily go and help implement (elsewhere)."

Alongside four other IU graduate workers, including Anwarzai, Smucker found himself back to being employed by the UE, lending assistance to other campuses across the United States.

A lot of this initial help from UE staff begins with the first step: signing union cards. Once enough union cards are signed, the group can host a formal election where members can vote on whether to unionize.

Passing on the lessons from IU's graduate worker movement

During the fall 2022 semester, Anwarzai was split between teaching a class at IU and commuting to the Northwestern campuses in Evanston and Chicago, running trainings for Northwestern organizers and speaking with graduate students about signing union cards.

"IU is essentially like a training school for organizers who then go on to do a bunch of organizing elsewhere," Anwarzai said.

She and Smucker also attended organizational meetings held by on-campus graduate workers to provide clarity and help. Their experience with the IU strike proved to be invaluable, as it helped them lend advice on what it takes to sign graduate workers up.

The easiest method may be sending out emails and compiling newsletters, but even in this day and age, that's not how you actually reach people.

"That's actually not what helps organize a union and that's not how we organized the strike at IU. We organized the strike by talking to people. On the first day of the picket line, we had 800 people on the picket line," Smucker said.

Smucker and Anwarzai left their positions at UE to focus on their graduate programs, though both attest to the experience's lasting impact.

"I definitely think I'm not done organizing," Anwarzai said. "I've just learned how important it is for just academic workers to actually fight to preserve any sort of educational components of universities. So I'm definitely going to take that with me whether I go into organizing like long-term or whether I go into academia. Or both."

Reach reporter Rachel Smith at


Does Northwestern have a grad student union? ›

This means that, subject to limited exceptions, graduate assistants, teaching assistants, graduate research assistants and graduate fellows are now represented by the union when they are enrolled in Northwestern degree programs and providing instructional or research services for the University.

How many graduate workers at IU? ›

The Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition currently lists about 1,800 graduate workers as members.

What is the average starting salary for a Northwestern grad? ›

Starting salary information was available for 463 of the recent graduates who were employed full-time six months after graduation. The average salary overall was $64,080. Salary data is influenced by the industry a student selects. This report represents data from 1728 (82%) members of the Class of 2020.

How much do Northwestern graduates make? ›

How much does a grad student at IU make? ›

The increase brought the minimum stipend to $22,000 which moves Indiana University from the bottom of Big Ten universities in average graduate stipends to the top half according to a press release.

How much are IU grad students paid? ›

In the spring, IU announced it would be raising the minimum stipend amount for graduate student workers - or student academic appointees, as they're sometimes referred to - up to $18,000. In August, IU announced it would be raising the minimum stipend even further, up to $22,000.

How much do IU grad students make? ›

The average salary for a Graduate Student is $50,672 per year in Bloomington, IN, which is 13% higher than the average Indiana University salary of $44,497 per year for this job.

Is 50000 a good salary for a college graduate? ›

The national average salary for college graduates (overall) has remained steady over the last few years at around $50,000 to $60,000. Business, mathematics, health science, engineering, and computer science majors are shown to make a higher average salary at between $52,000 and $71,000 per year.

What college graduate has the highest average salary? ›

The average starting salary for the graduating class of 2022 is $55,260. Computer science majors have the highest average starting salary of all degree programs, at $75,900.

How much does a PhD student at Northwestern make? ›

Amount of Funding/Stipends

The minimum annual stipend will be $36,960 for the 2023–24 academic year, representing a 5% increase from the previous year. Northwestern guarantees a minimum of 5 years (20 quarters) of support for all PhD students.

How much does PGY 6 get paid at Northwestern? ›

PGY6. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $85,792.

Is Northwestern grad school prestigious? ›

Northwestern and International Recognition

Northwestern is one of only four top 10 US universities also ranked in the top 20 in each of the five graduate education categories.

Is a Northwestern degree worth it? ›

Northwestern University is ranked #2,188 out of 2,223 for value nationwide. Based on our analysis of other colleges at similar price points, we believe Northwestern University is overpriced for the quality education it provides.

Who is the highest paid person at Indiana University? ›

1. Archie Miller, men's basketball head coach: $3,169,371.83.

What is the average salary at Indiana University? ›

Indiana University Bloomington Graduates & Alumni Salaries - By Job
ActivitySample SalarySalary Comparison
Financial Services$130,000130000.0
Executive Management & Change$105,000105000.0
Consulting, Accounting & Professional Services$77,00077000.0
Marketing, Product & Communications$64,00064000.0
1 more row

How much does a professor at IU make? ›

For the academic year 2021-2022, at Indiana University-Bloomington, The Professor salary is increased by 0.33 % from $127,331 to $127,757 over 734 Professors. The Associate professor salary is increased by 2.99 % from $92,750 to $95,526 over 509 Associate professors.

How much is the PhD stipend in Indiana? ›

Faculty Doctoral Fellowship

These fellowships consist of a four-year financial aid package that includes working for the department on an assistantship each year; the assistantship stipend combined with fellowship funds provides $22,000/year in addition to tuition remission and health insurance.

How much is the PhD stipend at Indiana Bloomington? ›

4-year fellowship with a $37,000 stipend/year for PhD; 2-year fellowship with a $10,000/year stipend for Master's.

Do IU employees get free tuition? ›

Employees/Retirees and Spouses: Only one IU Tuition Benefit subsidy will be applied each semester/term. The subsidy amount, however, can be split over multiple campuses.

How much do Harvard grad students make? ›

In addition, roughly 30 percent of graduates will make more than $110,000, up from 25 percent last year. This puts most students' salaries above $55,000, the national average salary for recent graduates.

How much does Harvard grad school pay? ›

The estimated total pay for a Graduate Student at Harvard University is $38,708 per year. This number represents the median, which is the midpoint of the ranges from our proprietary Total Pay Estimate model and based on salaries collected from our users. The estimated base pay is $38,708 per year.

How much do graduate assistants make at Indiana University? ›

$15/hour for 10-20 hours/week, depending on the individual's availability. Masters and Doc students eligible. The Graduate Assistant is a one semester position working with Student and Family Connections (SFC) within the Division of Student Affairs at IUPUI.

Are Berkeley grad students unionized? ›

UAW 2865 is the union that represents all 36,000+ Academic Student Employees—Teaching Assistants, Graduate Student Researchers, Graduate Student Instructors, Tutors, and Readers—across the University of California system.

Does Northwestern consider grad school legacy? ›

Does Northwestern consider legacies? According to the common data set shared by all educational institutions, Northwestern University, along with other schools such as Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, and Harvard University, considers legacy status when making admissions decisions.

How hard is it to get into Northwestern University graduate school? ›

Northwestern University Application Requirements

Northwestern is very selective with an acceptance rate of just 14 percent, so students seeking admissions must meet some tough criteria.

Are Yale grad students unionized? ›

Sign up for a free account or log in. Yale graduate assistants voted to form a union after decades of organizing. Graduate student instructors and researchers at Yale University voted to unionize, 1,860 to 179, they announced this week.

Do Harvard grad students have a union? ›

The Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU), officially known as Harvard Graduate Students Union United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW), is a labor union representing graduate students, teaching assistants, and other student employees at Harvard University.

How much do UC strike grad students get paid? ›

Graduate student researchers will make a minimum of $34,564 for nine months of part-time work by Oct. 1, 2024. Postdoctoral scholars will receive an increase in minimum annual pay for their full-time positions from about $55,000 to $70,000 or higher with various adjustments by the end of the five-year contract.

What is the hardest grad school to get into? ›

The most selective grad schools, with the lowest acceptance rates, include Harvard Graduate School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Columbia Business School. Harvard University has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the United States of America, at 4.6%.

Is Northwestern harder to get into than Duke? ›

Therefore, the acceptance rate alone is not a good indicator that Duke University is a better school or will be more difficult for you specifically to get into. On the flipside, Northwestern University is easier to get into based on acceptance rate alone.

What is the hardest grad school program? ›

Medicine is the most difficult graduate degree as the entire process is spent learning rather than memorizing textbooks, definitions and terms. Whatever you learn as a medical student is of immense value to you because they would all help you to understand the intricacies of the medical field.

What is the average GPA for Northwestern graduate? ›

The average GPA at Northwestern is 4.13. This makes Northwestern Extremely Competitive for GPAs. With a GPA of 4.13, Northwestern requires you to be at the top of your class. You'll need nearly straight A's in all your classes to compete with other applicants.

What is the minimum GPA for Masters in Northwestern University? ›

Have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA and no X, Y, K, or NR grades on the transcript. All grades must be entered and Change of Grade forms submitted by the grade deadline specified in the Academic Calendar.

What type of students get into Northwestern? ›

The most important criteria for Northwestern admissions is academic record. The application aspects which are factored into the overall academic record are GPA, test scores, class rank, course rigor, and the application essay. Other important factors are extracurriculars, recommendations, and talent.

Is it harder to get into Harvard or Northwestern? ›

Northwestern University 2023. Will you get accepted?
Differences between Harvard University and Northwestern University.
Harvard UniversityNorthwestern University
Average Financial Aid$48,524$41,439
Total Undergraduates73338576
Average SAT Scores1400 - 16001400 - 1560
Acceptance Rate613
4 more rows

Is a 3.7 GPA good for Northwestern? ›

Average GPA: 4.1

The average GPA at Northwestern is 4.1. This makes Northwestern Extremely Competitive for GPAs. (Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA.

Is Northwestern or Cornell harder to get into? ›

Which school is easier to get into? If you're looking at acceptance rate alone, then Northwestern University is more difficult to get into.


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