Well, this could be cool.
Grad students at Loyola University have voted to unionize, an option available to grad students across the nation after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that yes, graduate students are employees, and yes, they can join unions. Loyola is now among three private universities to reach this arrangement.
The grad student role is complicated, both taking classes and teaching them, but by serving as teaching and research assistants, they are absolutely doing (highly skilled!) work for their schools. But they’re not getting living wages: The Chicago Tribune reports one student has struggled to pay her phone bill and even buy groceries. And while Loyola grad students do get health insurance, they face limited coverage and high copays.
Loyola University itself, of course, is disappointed by this decision. They’re the employers, after all, and employers pretty much always resist improving labor relations. The provost’s statement on the matter even talks up the value of a “direct relationship” between the university and its grad students, echoing all the chiding anti-union messages corporations send their employees.
All this helps explain why academic unionization and blowback against corporatized universities are linked. Schools act increasingly like for-profit entities, and they’re all too willing to take advantage of grad students and adjunct professors. There’s this idea that anyone who gets to work in academia is so lucky that they shouldn’t complain, and that explains why so many adjuncts are living in straight-up poverty.
If universities are getting cozier with businesses, the benefits certainly aren’t trickling down. Grad student unions may be a good first step to fairer treatment.