More than 200 graduate student assistants who teach, conduct research, and work at one of Chicago’s most prestigious universities took a historic step Wednesday to collectively address their needs and concerns for themselves and their students by voting to join SEIU Local 73.
Approximately 60 percent voted in favor of forming a union, showing the university that graduate student employees want to have a collective voice to improve working conditions, benefits, and funding. Votes for Loyola’s all-mail ballot election were counted at the National Labor Relations Board Chicago office this morning.
Funding has been a critical issue for graduate student employees at Loyola. With an average yearly salary of $18,000 along with unaffordable healthcare, it is nearly impossible for workers like Liza DiStefano, a first-year graduate student studying social psychology at Loyola, to survive living in one of the nation’s most expensive cities.
“With this vote, we’ve leveled the playing field for all Loyola graduate student workers,” DiStefano said. “Together, we will negotiate better pay and decent healthcare so we can focus on our students and our studies without the distractions of struggling to buy groceries and pay rent.”
Loyola is one of 28 Jesuit institutions across the United States, including some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. While Jesuit institutions strive to promote social justice, the everyday reality is that many Jesuit colleges and universities have moved toward a more corporate model that has led to a dramatic shift away from investing in education and creating an affordable, accessible college education.
“As we celebrate here today, we also stand in solidarity with all graduate students fighting for their unions across America,” said Katherine Brichacek, a teaching assistant and Philosophy PhD candidate at Loyola. “By coming together in an intersectional and inclusive movement, we have a stronger voice for all us.”
Today’s victory is the first of its kind in the Midwest and just the third nationally after an NLRB ruling in August gave graduate student assistants nationwide the ability to form a union. They follow the path created by more than 15,000 faculty members across the country who have voted to join SEIU under the Higher Education Forward banner in the past three years, including part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty at Loyola. The group of more than 300 contingent faculty at Loyola voted to form their union with Local 73 in January 2016 and are currently in negotiations for their first contract.
“We are thrilled graduate student employees have joined the fight to improve higher education standards at Loyola and across the country,” said David Andrews, an English instructor at Loyola.