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Purdue graduate workers hold rally in solidarity with IU graduate workers

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Purdue University student graduate workers held a rally in support of Indiana University’s union Wednesday (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Some 30 Purdue graduate workers and faculty rallied Wednesday to show support for Indiana University graduate workers' efforts to have their union recognized by IU. 

IU hiked minimum stipends and waived mandatory fees for grad workers after they unionized, but the union has yet to receive recognition from the university.

Olivia Gearner is co-chair of the Greater Lafayette Democratic Socialists of America, which helped organize the event. She said the IU efforts serve as a “litmus test” for unionizing at public universities.

“If the IU workers can unionize and win demands at Indiana University, then that means grad workers here at Purdue could do the same thing,” she said.

Gearner has previously said she hopes seeing what is happening at IU will motivate similar efforts from grad workers at Purdue, but would not say where efforts are currently to unionize grad workers at Purdue.

“Both Purdue workers and IU workers are still below a living wage for those areas, and so it’s important that we still fight to get a living wage so we can afford to live here and work for the university,” she said.

Jim Connolly is also with Greater Lafayette Democratic Socialists of America. He said grad workers don’t have a lot of say over working conditions, despite making the university run.

“Indiana grad workers wouldn’t have won any of the huge concessions they’ve won so far without forming a union and threatening a strike,” he said. “We will not win similar things unless we form a union here.”

Bill Mullen is a retired Purdue professor who attended the rally. He said working at the university, he’s seen a lot of exploitation of grad labor.

“We’ve seen tons of new buildings, we’ve seen lots of new faculty hired,” he said. “We have seen very little movement towards improving the working conditions of graduate students, and I think that is a critical thing to recognize if Purdue actually wants to take responsibility as a world-class university.”

According to Purdue University, there are some 5,500 graduate student workers on its West Lafayette campus. Roughly 200 graduate workers are on the Purdue Fort Wayne and Purdue Northwest campuses.

Rep. Chris Campbell (D-West Lafayette) also attended the rally. She said since the passage of right-to-work laws in 2012, Indiana workers have forgotten the power unions can have.

“We have seen the negative impacts of that over the past decade,” she said. “I am in support of any groups of workers that come together and want to unionize.”

A spokesperson for Purdue University did not respond to a request for comment.