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Graduate Students Continue Fight for Recognition As Workers, Hand In Petition With 400 Signatures To Administrators

Loyola’s Graduate Workers’ Union made another bid for recognition by handing in a petition to Loyola’s administration Friday asking the university to meet them “at the bargaining table.”

The petition received over 400 signatures before it was delivered to Loyola administrators, according to the Loyola Worker Coalition, a coalition of non-tenure employees and graduate workers.

Graduate students work in several areas of academia on campus: holding office hours, grading papers and teaching classes are just some of the responsibilities fulfilled by graduate workers.

Dean of the Graduate School The Rev. Thomas Regan S.J. wrote a letter to members of the union Tuesday responding to the petitions. The letter reaffirmed the administration’s stance on the matter stating that “they are students in every sense of the word.” 

“Consistent with Loyola’s Jesuit, Catholic mission, which includes the principle of service to others, our graduate assistant programs provide students with mentorship and experience to help them thrive academically,” Regan wrote. “Like most in higher education, Loyola believes that our graduate assistants are fundamentally students — not employees.”

Regan has previously warned of the consequences of recognizing graduate students as employees, stating that the academic process could be disrupted.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has proposed a rule change that would stop graduate workers from being protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which defines who’s considered an employee and solidifies workers’ rights to unionize. 

In 2016, the NLRB ruled that graduate workers are protected by the NLRA, however, Loyola’s administration has continued to refuse to meet the graduate students at the bargaining table and recognize them as a union, The Phoenix reported.

If the rule change passes, the ruling would go into effect Nov. 22 after the 60 day comment period ends.

Without federal protection, graduate students who attempt to unionize wouldn’t have the same protections they had as a minority union — a union that is not recognized by its employer — some of which included being protected from termination for union activity.

Graduate students rallied outside of Cudahy Science Hall on Friday and walked to the Sullivan Center for Student Services to hand in a petition to Graduate School Dean the Rev. Thomas J. Regan, S.J.’s office in Sullivan Center and president Jo Ann Rooney’s office in Lewis Towers. The petition was also sent to each member of Loyola’s Board of Trustees. 

Alec Stubbs, a graduate student and co-chair of the Loyola Graduate Workers’ Union, said the petition poses an ultimatum to the administration.

“The petition essentially asks the university to make a decision on whether they stand with the Trump administration or with their graduate students,” Stubbs said.

While the movement at Loyola has been going on for awhile, it’s not the only place where graduate unions are working towards being recognized. According to Stubbs, the Loyola Worker Coalition has worked with other student unions at schools across the city and country, including University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Chicago and Duke University.

Several graduate student unions across the country plan to meet for the National Day of Action in Defense of Grad Rights Nov. 14. The Loyola Graduate Workers’ Union, along with unions from other Chicago universities will rally outside the NLRB office (219 S. Dearborn St.).

When asked by The Phoenix if graduate workers would strike, Stubbs said that he would not comment on a strike but any future moves depend on the university’s response to the petition. He added that the group remains hopeful things will change in its favor despite setbacks regarding the potential federal law change and the university’s past treatment of the graduate union.

“We are not going to back down but we are also optimistic that they see the way that they’ve operated in the past was wrong and immoral in respect to labor rights in this country,” Stubbs said.

Yiran Zhang, a graduate student and co-chair of the Loyola Graduate Workers’ Union, said the union hopes the administration can see why they are trying to meet at the bargaining table.

“We are fighting for a basic living wage, just a normal way of life,” Zhang said. “Hopefully now they realize ‘Oh, they’re tabling in Damen because they are dealing with crushing debt. They’re on the picket lines because they spend so much on rent and they want to be able to make ends meet.’”

An earlier version of this article said Alec Stubbs and Yiran Zhang were co-chairs of the Loyola Worker Coalition. That was incorrect — they are co-chairs of the Loyola Graduate Workers’ Union.

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