Seven Loyola students part of a graduate student union protest were arrested Monday in front of Lewis Towers after staging a sit-in and blocking the entrance.
The students were part of a group of about 50 people who were marching on the entrance to Loyola president Jo Ann Rooney’s office in support of the graduate student union, which hasn’t been recognized by Loyola.
It’s the latest in the turmoil between the university and the grad union, which has ramped up its call for recognition and a union contract in the last few months.
Now, they’re calling for a graduate and undergraduate student walkout on April 24 if Loyola doesn’t recognize them by then.
Graduate student workers in the College of Arts and Sciences are paid a stipend from the university and are eligible for scholarships. They teach classes, hold outside office hours and grade papers as part of their jobs as assistants.
But Loyola’s been firm that they believe they’re “students in every sense of the word” and not employees.
The grad workers voted to unionize in 2017 and were recognized by the National Labor Relations Board. Loyola has said they won’t bargain with the workers.
The university has given them some concessions, such as stipend raises, travel funding, dental coverage and the ability to work an outside job. The union argues those additions can be taken away because it has no contract with Loyola.
The demonstrators at Lewis Towers presented two Loyola administration representatives — CAS and Graduate School Dean Fr. Tom Regan, S.J., and Dean of Students Will Rodriguez — with three letters of support from graduate workers, clergy in Rogers Park and Edgewater and community members from the neighborhoods.
Loyola has said that they’re following Catholic Social Teaching despite not recognizing the grad union, even though Catholic Social Teaching puts an emphasis on the rights of workers and the right to organize and unionize.
Regan told The Phoenix there’s no contradiction.
“Unions are not the only way that you can get your rights and so we are not in violation of any social teaching,” Regan said. “And the very fact is, I raise, with the help of my team, we raise the stipends, we raise … the travel fees [for traveling to conferences].”
When they were refused entrance into Rooney’s office and the building itself, protestors sat down on the sidewalk and blocked the doors. Chicago police arrested seven protesting students on counts of disorderly conduct.
Yiran Zhang, a 24-year-old third-year graduate student in the philosophy department, was one of the students arrested. She spoke with The Phoenix after her arrest about overcoming the intimidation of being arrested.
“But honestly what, to me, was more intimidating was the thought of facing weeks, months, or more semesters just struggling to make ends meet,” Zhang said. “Or living in constant fear of ‘Maybe these small wins that we’ve gained in the past could be taken away at any moment.’”
Graduate workers argue that despite Loyola’s concessions they still struggle to pay the bills and are saddled with student debt.
Claire Lockard, a 25-year-old third-year doctoral student in the philosophy department, spoke to the crowd about the personal struggles of graduate students.
“I am angry that my feeling of panic during this part of the semester is just as much about how I will support myself during the three months I will not be paid as it is about grading papers, finishing my own coursework, performing uncompetended departmental services or writing my dissertation,” Lockard said.
Illinois State Senator Robert Peters — who represents part of downtown Chicago — spoke at the protest, siding with the graduate workers’ mission.
“It’s time that workers get paid fair wages, given fair benefits, respected as an important part of that institution,” Peters said to the crowd. “So I ask the administration to sit down and bargain with the workers.”
Also in attendance was Father Larry Dowling of Chicago’s St. Agatha Catholic Church, who gave a short speech supporting the graduate students, calling for the university to rectify the situation of “injustice.”
“I stand with the students, along with many of the priests from the Archdiocese of Chicago,” Dowling said in his speech. “Our Catholic Social Teaching is very clear that the rights of workers must be respected … I call on the university to negotiate a contract with the students.”
Graduate workers at the University of Illinois-Chicago recently received union recognition from the university after a three-week strike. Georgetown University, another Jesuit school, also has bargained with its graduate union.
Loyola reached a union agreement with non-tenure track faculty members in the CAS last April after more than two years of negotiations.