- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A union representing University of Iowa graduate student employees on Tuesday praised a judge’s decision that will require the university to bargain over student fee reimbursements.

The union, COGS Local 896, which represents 2,300 teaching and research assistants, said the ruling “validates and strengthens” its campaign to eliminate the practice of having its members pay mandatory student fees. The group also called on the Iowa Board of Regents, the university’s governing body, to abandon further legal appeals in the case.

Like other graduate student unions around the country, COGS has fought mandatory fee hikes that it says amount to backdoor tuition increases and have skyrocketed in recent years. The union has already negotiated tuition waivers for its members, but it warned that fee increases were unfair and adding to debt loads.

In its new two-year contract that went into effect July 1, the union negotiated a provision reimbursing members 25 percent of fees - about $250 out of $1,000 a full-time student pays annually. The union will push for additional reimbursements in future contracts, hoping to eliminate them.

During negotiations, the regents argued that student fee reimbursements were not a mandatory subject for collective bargaining. The Iowa Public Employment Relations Board disagreed, ruling that the reimbursements were “supplemental pay” that must be negotiated. The classification is significant because it means, if the two sides cannot agree, an arbitrator would issue a binding decision to resolve the outcome.

The Board of Regents reached a settlement with the union on a contract that included the 25 percent reimbursement of fees. But the regents nonetheless appealed the board’s finding that fee reimbursements were mandatory topics of bargaining, petitioning a judge to overturn it.

District Judge Karen Romano rejected the regents’ appeal Friday, saying the board’s finding that fee reimbursement amount to supplemental pay was reasonable. She rejected the regents’ argument that student fees are unrelated to the graduate students’ employment.

Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman said the agency was reviewing the decision and considering its options.

The regents could ask the Iowa Supreme Court to review the case.

Union attorney Joseph Cohen said it was hard to understand “why the university has taken the extreme measure of going to court.” He noted both sides had reached the agreement on fees months ago and now two decisions have found the fees are mandatory subjects of bargaining.

“To drag out the process by appealing what amounts to a purely theoretical issue at this point would seem to be a tremendous waste of public resources,” he said.

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Follow Ryan J. Foley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/rjfoley


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