The Loyola men’s basketball team continues to soar through the ranks of the NCAA Tournament, miracle win after miracle win, and the university has been reveling in the limelight.
The Ramblers’ astonishing success and charming underdog story have been good for sales — sparking renewed alumni interest, sweeping the bookstore’s shelves of Rambler merchandise and catapulting beloved campus personality Sister Jean into international stardom.
But in the next few weeks, the recent media attention Loyola has been given could actually highlight several of the university’s major faults, pressuring the university to action.
During an on-campus rally held March 16, a coalition of non-tenure track (NTT) faculty from Loyola’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) threatened to strike April 4 if their demands for contract negotiation aren’t met by the university.
Loyola’s NTT-faculty, who are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 district, argue they’re unfairly burdened in comparison to tenured faculty, as they are paid less, receive fewer benefits and are ineligible for promotions to tenured positions. This places the undue burden upon them of taking multiple jobs and paying for some forms of health care on their own.
With this newfound national attention, Loyola can no longer afford to do wrong by its NTT faculty, as failing to publically uphold its Jesuit social justice values could mean losing the support it’s recently gained.
The hypocrisy of a Jesuit Catholic University, which aims to uphold a mission of social justice, meanwhile failing to provide its workers with adequate salary and benefits, hasn’t gone unnoticed on Loyola’s campus in the past. The PHOENIX has published numerous op-eds written by students, graduates and faculty alike that highlighted what they deem Loyola’s administrators’ insincerity toward fulfilling this mission as an ongoing issue.
But under the national spotlight, this strike would reflect poorly on the university, adding to an already unflattering public image after two students of color were involved in a much criticized incident with Campus Safety officers last month. Since the incident, Loyola has promised to have its officers wear body cameras, but some students question the sincerity of these efforts, pointing out administrators’ lack of a clear action plan.
While Loyola has recently shown flexibility in negotiating with its NTT faculty, its NTT faculty state the university has been intentionally delaying bargaining and that its offers are comparatively meager — a salary increase of only a few percent after more than 10 years without raises.
On top of that, the university has refused to negotiate with its graduate students, who voted to unionize through SEIU in 2016, stating graduates don’t have the same rights as employees by federal law.
This defies a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by claiming exemption as a religious institution. In other words, Loyola claimed the right to govern within its religious beliefs.
But Loyola, a Jesuit, Catholic institution, claims on its own website to uphold “ethical behavior in business and in all professions” and “service that promotes justice,” and failing to provide its own workers with a fair salary, security and benefits would be a direct violation of its mission.
Loyola’s hypocrisy in denying graduates their right to unionize or NTT faculty their bargaining requests wouldn’t be a surprise to those familiar with the university’s longstanding operations. Instead, they might recognize this episode as a repeat of Loyola’s dining hall workers’ negotiations in 2016, wherein the university was accused of denying its workers a 40-hour work week, agreeable wages and the right to speak non-English languages, meanwhile parroting its Jesuit social justice values. These negotiations were eventually settled in the dining hall workers’ favor.
But for those only now tuning in — new Rambler fans, prospective students and donors — a strike of this nature would spoil what could be a growing favorable public image, turning the public away from our campus (and their checkbooks).
As we approach the April 4 bargaining deadline, Loyola should be considering what its actions mean, not only from a public relations standpoint, but what they mean for those who work for the university and have believed in its social justice mission from the beginning.
If the university took this time to reflect on the future impact of this strike, it just might spell another miraculous victory for the Ramblers.
In the meantime, Loyola’s next meeting with SEIU is scheduled for March 28.