Hundreds of graduate student assistants who teach, conduct research, and work at Loyola University Chicago (LUC) took a historic step on February 8 to join the growing union movement in higher education by voting to join SEIU Local 73.
Approximately 60 percent of LUC graduate workers who cast a ballot voted in favor of forming a union, showing that graduate student employees want to have a collective voice to improve working conditions, benefits, and funding.
Funding has been a critical issue for graduate student employees at Loyola. With an average yearly salary of $18,000 along with affordable healthcare, it is nearly impossible for workers like Liza DiStefano, a first-year graduate student studying social psychology at Loyola, to survive living in one of the nation’s most expensive cities.
“With this vote, we’ve leveled the playing field for all Loyola graduate student workers,” DiStefano said. “Together, we will negotiate better pay and decent healthcare so we can focus on our students and our studies without the distractions of struggling to buy groceries and pay rent.”
Loyola is one of 28 Jesuit institutions across the United States, including some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. While Jesuit institutions strive to promote social justice, the everyday reality is that many Jesuit colleges and universities have moved toward a more corporate model that has led to a dramatic shift away from investing in education and creating an affordable, accessible college education.
Today’s victory is the first graduate worker union victory at a private university outside the Northeast and just the third nationally after an NLRB ruling in August gave graduate student assistants the ability to collectively bargain. Graduate workers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina are currently voting in their union election. “As we celebrate here today, we also stand in solidarity with all graduate students fighting for their unions across America,” said Katherine Brichacek, a teaching assistant and Philosophy PhD candidate at Loyola. “By coming together in an intersectional and inclusive movement, we have a stronger voice for all us.”
Loyola graduate workers follow the path created by more than 15,000 faculty members across the country who have voted to join SEIU since 2013, including part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty at Loyola. The group of more than 300 contingent faculty at Loyola voted to form their union with Local 73 in January 2016 and are currently in negotiations for their first contract.
“We are thrilled graduate student employees have joined the fight to improve higher education standards at Loyola and across the country,” said David Andrews, an English instructor at Loyola.
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