Today, Loyola University of Chicago graduate workers took over the university’s budget town hall, demanding the administration recognize the legally established union and negotiate a contract with them in good faith.
“Our union should be considered in the university’s budget. We are essential to the function of this university, yet we are treated as if our work does not matter,” said Claire Lockard, a graduate worker who is pursuing her PhD in Philosophy, during the protest. “We are asking you and everyone in this room to fight with us, not against us as we fight to ensure a fair contract for all graduate workers at Loyola.”
Last Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the day that Loyola University Chicago graduate workers were notified via letter of the administration’s refusal to recognize and bargain with the democratically-elected graduate worker union. The letter marked the administration’s reversal of goodwill and negotiations previously promised to the workers, because they don’t identify graduate workers as employees.
“As Loyola graduates, we are more than just students. We contribute to everything within Loyola from their scholarly prestige to their moral commitments,” said Krislyn Zhorne, a graduate worker who is pursuing her PhD in English. “Our working conditions do not reflect the role that we play in the university and we are not receiving the proper support for us to live properly and meet the expectations of the university. So for them to disacknowledge the fact that we are workers and that we do deserve to be at the bargaining table is just a slap in a face; they’re going back against their word.”
Since unionizing, Loyola graduate workers have fought for and won stipend increases, increased professionalization funding, the addition of dental coverage to their health care plan and freedom to work second jobs outside of Loyola. However, without a union contract, the group says the changes are not permanent. Loyola administration can alter, reverse, or eliminate these new benefits at any time and without graduate worker input.
Graduate workers united together to build the Loyola University Chicago Graduate Workers Union, under SEIU Graduate Workers Forward, to combine collective political power and demand the change that is needed. The union is a continuation of a larger movement among graduate workers and non-tenure track faculty at colleges and universities nationwide, who are unionizing to raise work standards, improve wages and benefits, establish job security and restore respect for their professions.
In April, Loyola University non-tenure track faculty ratified their first contract with the university, after nearly two years of negotiations, a strike and other actions. Graduate workers supported the efforts of the faculty as a sign of solidarity in the struggle. In July, non-tenure track faculty at Fordham University won a new three-year contract, after a long fight, that secures huge wage increases for most adjunct faculty. In April, Georgetown University agreed to allow a union election for graduate workers through a third-party process. Non-tenure track faculty at Saint Louis University have also formed a union. In September, Brandeis University graduate workers won their first contract. Now, the pressure is building for Jesuit institutions to live up to their values for all their workers, including graduate workers.