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Students, faculty fight for unions on Catholic campuses
Loyola University student Michael Fasullo, right wearing tie, speaks at a news conference on the sidewalk near Loyola University in Chicago on Jan. 25, 2016.
(Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)
Manya Brachear PashmanChicago Tribune
Just a day before nontenured faculty members at Loyola University of Chicago cast final ballots on whether to unionize, students at the Roman Catholic school faced a conduct hearing Monday after demonstrating their support for dining hall workers trying to negotiate a new union contract.
Lillian Osborne, 22, who hopes to graduate in May, said she and other students could face probation or suspension for a Nov. 20 demonstration that started on a lawn and ended inside a dining hall, where students confronted a supervisor during business hours to express their solidarity with employees. After explaining their rationale to a manager for Aramark, the food service company negotiating with workers, students cheered and peacefully disbanded, Osborne said.
Loyola said it did not disapprove of the students’ demonstration or its subject matter, but questioned the disruption the protest might have caused. The students said the administration expects to issue its decision later this week.
“As a Jesuit, Catholic university, we strongly believe in, and welcome, debate and differing views on campus,” said Kristin Trehearne Lane, a university spokeswoman. “We support students who express their views through respectful and responsible means.”
But Osborne said the administration’s decision to try the students after receiving a complaint from the Aramark supervisor raises questions about the administration’s rationale and sincerity.
“We can see in the complaint letter written by the Aramark manager who filed the charge against us — he said the union and workers misled students and we should be re-educated on the issues,” Osborne said. “That gives us a lot of perspective on what this is really about.”
The controversy comes amid a heated debate between the school’s administration and its nontenured faculty, who wrap up a secret ballot Tuesday on whether to organize a union. Students say they are simply acting out the Jesuit values they learned at Loyola and echoing Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, who delivered a passionate defense of the labor movement in a speech in September to the Chicago Federation of Labor.
More private universities are unionizing. Will Loyola?
“I have come today to tell Chicago’s workers, the Catholic Church is with you; Pope Francis is with you; I am with you,” he said.
When pressed at the time on whether he would direct Chicago-area Catholic universities to support unions on their campuses, Cupich said he didn’t have the authority to tell them what to do.
“Nationally this is a discussion going on with regard to adjunct faculty members across universities, whether Catholic or whatever,” he said. “As a Catholic bishop I have absolutely no involvement or control over hiring policies and labor policies of any of the Catholic (higher education) institutions.”
But the argument made by Loyola and St. Xavier University, a Catholic university with campuses in Chicago and Orland Park, differs from secular universities. Both schools have argued that their Catholic identity should bar the National Labor Relations Board from helping faculty organize a union and push for a collective bargaining agreement. In rulings last year, the NLRB disagreed, saying it did have the right to intervene at Loyola and other religious schools. The issue of whether those rulings apply to St. Xavier is still pending and Loyola still could appeal.
Supporters hold signs during a press conference on the sidewalk near Loyola University in Chicago on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016.
(Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune
In a video posted on the university’s website earlier this month, Loyola’s interim president John Pelissero said his opposition to a faculty union does not contradict church teachings. He believes the Service Employees International Union is not the right union to represent teachers. The best way to resolve issues is to collaborate without a third party, he said.
“Catholic social teaching recognizes the significant contribution that unions have made related to workers’ rights,” Pelissero said. “But it does not suggest unions as the only means to achieve our goals.”
Matt Hoffmann, a longtime adjunct instructor who earned his Ph.D. at Loyola, said calling the union a third party is a misleading tactic.
“The bargaining team is going to be made up of faculty and we’re going to do it in a democratic manner,” he said. “We are the union.”
Votes in the faculty election will be tabulated Wednesday.
Since the contract with dining hall workers expired Aug. 31, the workers’ union, Unite Here Local 1, has unsuccessfully demanded higher wages, access to health care and protection for immigrant workers such as language accommodations and time off for immigration proceedings.
According to the union, Aramark employees on many other college campuses have access to health care, but not at Loyola.
Peter Kirstein, a labor history professor at St. Xavier, said more Catholic schools are finding that church teachings are expensive to uphold. In many cases, such as food services, schools have outsourced the labor and, therefore, the collective bargaining responsibilities. Even so, Kirstein said, administrators should recognize their moral obligation to require that companies provide health care and a living wage.
“Universities need to have less fear about justice,” he said. “Workers who want to organize in a union — they’re not selfish. They’re not radical. They’re poor and people don’t want to be poor.”
Dan Abraham, organizing director for Loyola’s dining hall workers, said he has seen more college students in general step up to support workplace justice and union contract negotiations on their campuses. Students at Catholic schools often justify their solidarity in the values of the very institution that’s challenging them.
“That overall is a positive for us,” Abraham said. “There’s nothing like having the pope behind you.”
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50 N. Front St., Memphis TN 38103
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