LGWU's Concerns for Graduate Workers + COVID-19 Pandemic [Presented to Council of Deans]
These reiterated concerns were shared with Loyola's Council of Deans and the Provost on June 3, 2020.
Based on surveys and personal testimonies, the Loyola Graduate Workers’ Union has determined that the greatest concerns for LUC graduate students and student-workers during the COVID-19 pandemic include:
1. For funded graduate student workers, the graduate stipend barely covers 9 months of living in Chicago; this funding system is contingent upon graduate workers finding external employment both during the academic year and during the summer.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, summer employment is now unavailable for most graduate workers (both employment for Loyola and beyond, as most institutions have eliminated summer positions and work in other industries that graduate workers rely on to make ends meet (restaurants, childcare, retail, etc.) are also now nonexistent).
Therefore, Loyola graduate workers are in the dire situation of not being able to make ends meet this summer; however, Loyola will still benefit from their 9-month (contract-less) labor in the fall.
How does Loyola plan to support their graduate workers when summer employment and funding are no longer available due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Loyola must take responsibility for this system that relies upon student workers dedicating years of seasonal service to Loyola, who benefits financially from leaving graduate workers on their own to find summer and supplemental employment.
In order for this system of graduate labor to remain viable, Loyola needs to become accountable for supporting graduate workers in procuring employment and/or funding for 12 months of the year.
2. For unfunded, hourly graduate student workers, many of these positions have been furloughed indefinitely with little communication regarding return to work.
How does Loyola plan to support these graduate student workers, particularly from a retention standpoint, when external employment is not available and students are still tasked with covering tuition?
How and when does Loyola plan to communicate to furloughed hourly workers whether or not they are given a return to work date or WFH accommodations for the fall?
In order for this system of graduate labor to remain viable, Loyola needs to become accountable for communicating long-term changes to hourly student hiring models so graduate students can make difficult decisions such as whether or not they can retain their status as a tuition-paying graduate student, or seek opportunities elsewhere if no alternative sources of income are found.
3. International and undocumented graduate students/workers who do not have access to unemployment benefits or the stimulus check are experiencing heightened levels of financial precarity.
Specific questions concerning the above mentioned issues:
+ Is there going to be direct funding to graduate student workers in need (without needing to go further into debt via the loan option)?
Because “lost wages” are not covered in the HEERF application, is there another mechanism that can make up for the fact that (a) 9-month stipends do not reflect our 12 month lives, (b) summer jobs are nearly impossible to find at this time, and (c) part-time employment for hourly workers who have had their positions furloughed and not renewed during a time when external positions are dwindling by the day, (d) graduate worker summer positions at Loyola have been terminated, including positions promised to graduate workers via grants and gift funds.
+ Is there a mechanism on the table to directly fund international graduate student workers who are in precarious positions, do not have access to unemployment, and who cannot receive stimulus checks?
+ If no direct (non-loan) funding options exist, is it possible to make use of a university account for donations to be made directly to graduate student workers in need?
In addition to direct financial support, graduate students workers would greatly benefit from:
+ Clear support and resources from LUC about applying for unemployment benefits.
Prior work at educational institutions is not eligible for regular IDES unemployment benefits. The process for applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in Illinois is ever-evolving and time-consuming; it is also essentially impossible to receive customer support from IDES at this time.
This can take the form of digital publications, informational Zoom sessions, or simply designating a contact for students who are struggling to navigate applying for unemployment benefits.
Collated, and updated, resource database in communities adjacent to Loyola campuses to help students identify ways to fill the gaps that Loyola can not/will not provide for.
+ Graduate student representation in decision-making processes
Many graduate students have consistently felt out of the loop about decisions that directly affect us. While we understand the scale of the decisions being made at this time, we encourage the university to actively seek out graduate student voices and seek out graduate student representation to be a part of transparent, shared governance.
Creation of a digital community that will help graduate students come together to discuss.
+ More clear and consistent communication
In addition to graduate students feeling left out of the loop in terms of the decision-making process, graduate students also feel that they are not receiving clarity about important information. An example is an overall lack of and fragmented communication regarding the CARES Act Allocation process during the months of April and May. This is an example of a larger area of concern. Communication is infrequent, and often with periods of prolonged radio silence concerning important topics. Graduate students would like not only to be more involved in how these decisions are made, through the contribution of voices, but would like to get email updates on time-sensitive or urgent issues.