One week after seven Loyola students were arrested outside of Lewis Towers on Loyola’s Water Tower Campus, the group has taken to the university’s Lake Shore Campus to call for recognition and a union contract. The graduate student union held a walkout followed by a rally on April 24.
As students crossed Sheridan Road at 9 a.m. to head to class, some were met by a line of picketers. The protesters shouted chants such as “we work, we teach, now practice what you preach,” as they walked on the crosswalk in front of the Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts.
Graduate teaching assistants voted to unionize two years ago, and the group has been recognized as a union by The National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency of the U.S government that enforces labor laws. However, Loyola still considers them students — not workers.
Protesters made their way through campus, walking past buildings such as Cuneo Hall, Dumbach Hall and through Damen Student Center where students and staff heard their chants.
Adam Capone, a third-year grad student in the philosophy department, said he helped organize the walkout because he and his fellow graduate workers aren’t making enough to live in Chicago.
“This is our way of showing the administration that we’re serious and they can’t keep ignoring us and they can’t keep refusing to meet us at the table,” the 24-year-old said.
The marching came to a halt at noon when about 125 students, faculty and community members gathered behind the Mundelein Center for a rally.
The rally had 12 speakers which included graduate students, faculty, undergraduate student Kasi Woods, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky for the 9th congressional district, local pastor Reverend Lindsay Joyce and Father Dominic Grassy, a retired pastor and member of Arise Chicago, a worker advocacy group based in the city.
Caroline McGraw, a graduate fellow in digital humanities, took time in her three-minute speech to refute Loyola’s claims that the graduate students are students, not workers.
“Our administration says that we are only graduate [students] not graduate student workers, but if we aren’t workers then why do we pay taxes like workers?” McGraw said.
In an email sent to the Loyola community on April 15, Margaret Faut Callahan, interim provost, and Thomas Regan, dean of Loyola’s graduate school, said the university recognizes the work graduate students do as a part of their role as a student.
“Our graduate assistants are recruited and admitted to Loyola as students, based on their academic qualifications. They are awarded scholarships, stipends and other awards to encourage them to study with us,” the email said.
Callahan and Regan also mentioned other ways the university supports graduate students, such as paying for their health and dental insurance premiums and making them eligible to seek outside employment.
“We have recognized and enhanced the important relationship we have with our graduate assistants through means other than a union,” the email said.
Regan told The Phoenix the university doesn’t have the funds ivy league schools have, so meeting the graduate students’ demands would mean raising tuition for undergraduate students.
“We are not going to go up 10% on undergraduate tuition to meet these demands, we think it’s a viable offer, it’s competitive,” Regan said.
Loyola already announced a 3.3% increase in undergraduate tuition for next year partially due to increasing staff salary, according to an email sent to students in January by Loyola president Jo Ann Rooney.
It’s unclear if staff salary increases include wage increases that were put in place when the university reached an agreement with Loyola non-tenure track faculty union in April, 2018.
Ivy league universities such as Columbia, Harvard and Brown recognize their graduate workers’ unions, as well as the Jesuit university Georgetown, according to a press release emailed to The Phoenix from the service employees international union.
Capone said he “can’t talk strategy,” about what would come next if their requests weren’t met, or if that next step would be a strike.
Regan said if the graduate students do decide to go on strike, they would be hurting undergraduates because classes taught by graduate students wouldn’t be held.
“If they are going to use our undergraduates and weaponize our undergraduates, I would say, I think that would be most unfortunate and that is not in the spirit of Loyola or social justice,” Regan said.
Anya Guzman Hardin, a sophomore studying photography, skipped class to join graduate workers at the rally. She said she considered her future as a graduate student and decided to protest alongside them.
“I know someday I am going to be in the grad student world, and I want to be able to know that I’ll be able to make a liveable wage,” Hardin said.