CHICAGO –(ENEWSPF)—May 8, 2017. A coalition of University of Chicago student library workers filed a petition yesterday to become one of the nation’s first primarily undergraduate student unions at a private university. The group of student employees, calling themselves the Student Library Employees Union, worked with Teamsters Local 743, a local labor union, to file the petition with the National Labor Relations Board this past Sunday.
The petition calls for an election to determine whether student library employees will unionize and gain the legal right to negotiate with the University on issues such as employee wages, hours, and third-party legal representation in cases of Title IX, ADA and labor violations. Only as unionized workers will students be able to protect their rights as well as fully engage in the academic mission of the University of Chicago.
“Student workers do a large amount of the work that makes UChicago Library—and by extension, UChicago—function, and we need to have a legitimate say in the issues that affect us, affect our work environments, and affect our abilities to balance our jobs and education,” said fourth-year Daphne Xi, a student worker at the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.
Students say that wages are too low and hours too irregular for part-time student library workers in need of a secure source of income, with some taking on second jobs outside of the university system to cover expenses necessary to receive an education. They say that the library bureaucracy is opaque such that it is difficult to push for changes when employers will not give them a fair deal.
“As a student worker with mental illnesses, unionization is an extremely important goal for me. I am not only a student worker, but an organizer, and a musician – in short, I don’t have much free time, and too often I’ve been put in a situation where I need to put work over my responsibilities as a student and even my well being as a person just so that I can have enough money to continue attending this school,” said third-year Alex Peltz, a student worker in the Regenstein Library.
He said, “Creating a union will provide me with the ability to bargain for a higher wage so that I can actually be a student at my own school, as well as offering me legal representation and defense against ADA violations, allowing me to feel safe and supported in the workplace.”
As unionized workers, students will be able to negotiate with the University for a better recourse on workplace violations. Student library employees with legal recognition as a body of workers will have the ability to participate in mandatory contract negotiations with the University administration. This ability is especially necessary for student employees, as the administration has habitually failed to meet with students in a timely or productive manner.
Furthermore, students will push for legal third-party representation in workplace grievance procedures regarding cases of harassment, Title IX violations, and ADA violations. The federal government has previously criticized and intervened in the University’s implementation of Title IX and ADA. With external arbitration, unionized student workers will be able to ensure the University acts on its commitments to student safety and health.
“I think that unionizing is crucial in order to get the accountability and security we need from the University,” said second-year Katie McPolin, a student worker at the Eckhart Library. “I have long felt like I do not have a voice in the way that this university operates, as they continually fail to prioritize the things I care about—ADA compliance, for example, is something they have notoriously neglected—and instead pour funds into what’s most profitable. This is a huge step toward a democratic university, where my needs matter to administrators as much as the money in my pockets.”
The University’s Graduate Students United, a coalition of graduate student workers, will also file a petition to unionize today. Graduate and undergraduate student employees recognize the need for the University to implement better working conditions in order to both receive and provide an education.