Members of the Loyola graduate student union gathered on the East Quad March 21 in their latest move to fight for a contract with the university.
The event was organized by the Loyola Worker Coalition, a group formed by non-tenure track (NTT) faculty and graduate student workers with goals to improve working conditions for NTT faculty and graduate student workers at Loyola by increasing wages and improving benefits.
The graduate students, who were recognized as a union by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — a federal organization which deals with workers’ rights — voted to unionize in February 2017 but the university still hasn’t recognized them as a union, The Phoenix reported.
Seven people spoke at the rally — which drew a crowd of around 50 people — including four graduate workers, a student government representative, and two teachers.
Alec Stubbs, a 25-year-old philosophy doctorate student and a member of the graduate student union, addressed the crowd and told The Phoenix the goal of the protest was for graduate students’ voices to be heard. He said they want to meet at the bargaining table with the administration in order to work for a contract to better living conditions.
“We will not be silenced by the university,” Stubbs said. “They have continued to fail to bargain with us for two years and we’re here to say ‘enough is enough’ and it’s time to bargain with us.”
Evangeline Politis, a university spokesperson, said in an emailed statement to The Phoenix that Loyola makes it a priority to keep stipends competitive with other universities. She also said they’ve added enhancements, such as increasing and standardizing stipends; eliminating the restriction on off-campus employment; adding dental coverage to the student health plan; and increasing awards for approved conference travel in order to benefit the graduate students.
“Graduate assistants are admitted to Loyola as students based on their academic qualifications, and when they leave us, they receive an academic degree,” Politis said. “They are students in every sense of the word. Therefore, they do not qualify as “employees” within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act.”
The statement said Catholic Social Teaching — of which Loyola adheres to — doesn’t teach that unions are the only, or even preferred, way to protect the interests of the graduate students.
Stubbs said the administration’s methods of not talking to the union and pushing unfair working conditions were “exploitative.”
Claire Lockard, a graduate worker and the leader of the protest, gave a speech about how she was “scared” she’d be left with nothing because of the lack of rights the graduate workers have on wages and benefits. She said she’s fighting to improve pay, health benefits and other funding.
Lockard led the crowd in chants of “We work, we teach. Now practice what you preach,” and “What do we want? A contract. When do we want it? Now. If we don’t get it? Shut it down.”
Lockard said she was happy with the turnout because it represents the power a group of people can bring to the table.
“One of the administration’s strategies seems to be to ignore us and hope that we go away or hope that we won’t gain enough traction,” Lockard said. “So, it’s really important for all of us to get together in the same place at the same time, to say that ‘no we are still here.’”
Last spring, the university’s NTT faculty reached a contract agreement with the university after nearly two years of bargaining and public protests, The Phoenix reported.
This isn’t an issue just at Loyola. Graduate students at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) are striking too for many of the same reasons as Loyola’s graduate students.
Harvard University’s graduate workers union has been successfully bargaining with their administration recently after being shut down by university officials, the Harvard Crimson reported.
Stubbs said he hadn’t had the opportunity to go physically support the students at UIC because he’s been working at Loyola, but he hopes to go help them later in the week.
“We stand with them and we hope that what they’re doing ends up in them reaching a fair contract with the administration as well,” Stubbs said. “We support not only unions in Chicago but all over the country.”