HomeTop StoriesMarquette employees launch union drive amid budget uncertainty and job losses

Marquette employees launch union drive amid budget uncertainty and job losses

A group of more than 50 Marquette University employees have launched a unionization effort in hopes of gaining federal recognition that would allow them to negotiate wages, benefits and working conditions.

The effort announced this week comes shortly after Marquette made plans to cut $31 million from its budget over the next seven years.

“It seems like we need this now more than ever,” said Grant Gosizk, a member of the union steering committee who teaches in the university’s English department. “There is now a pressure on the campaign that we have not had in the last two years. It has been in the works for a long time, but now it seems essential.”

The effort to unionize speaks to the unease felt on campus, especially among workers who lack protection of their property rights. Union members believe university leaders have left faculty and staff out of the decision-making process. Having a local chapter, they say, is the way to restore their seat at the table.

Marquette officials said the university is working with the entire campus community to decide how to reduce costs and plan for the future.

“Marquette University is in a strong financial position, and strong institutions are continually evaluating and planning for the future,” university spokesperson Lynn Griffith said. “We choose to shape our own destiny and proactively prepare for major demographic changes in 2026.”

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University leaders believe the campus is “best served by working together and without a third party,” Griffith said. “That said, Marquette leadership has repeatedly stated that it will follow a lawful process that protects the rights of all parties as defined in the National Labor Relations Act.”

Four types of workers are part of the new Marquette union

The union includes non-tenure track faculty, academic staff, graduate student workers and undergraduate workers. It is a local chapter of United Campus Workers, which is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America.

The chapter has not yet been filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The board oversees union elections and enforces the law that guarantees the right of most private sector workers to organize.

One of the challenges of the Marquette chapter is organizing the various bargaining units based on their job classifications. No vote has been scheduled yet, but Gosizk said the department will work on an “aggressive timeline.”

Marquette union looking for longer contracts

Gosizk is in his fourth year as a full-time teacher at Marquette. He has received a series of one-year contract extensions.

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“I think it’s unnecessarily cruel to make someone guess every year whether or not they’re going to continue to have a job,” he said. “We want longer contracts.”

Non-tenure track teachers are also pushing for higher pay. At Loyola University Chicago, one of Marquette’s peer institutions, faculty members with the same job title as Gosizk earn $20,000 more, he said.

Marquette has offered three-year contracts to nearly 100 non-tenure track faculty and developed promotion criteria. These were among 22 recommendations from a committee that examined how to improve the non-tenure track faculty work experience.

Graduate workers are looking for health insurance

Marquette previously offered voluntary health insurance for graduate students, but phased it out several years ago. As a result, most graduate student workers rely on their parents’ health insurance or purchase it through the federal government.

Josh Seidman, a sophomore in the math department, said his options were limited when he had to undergo surgery last year.

“It’s quite frustrating,” he said.

Marquette offers students stipends of up to $750 that they can use for health care, but Seidman says that’s not enough.

Marquette recently conducted a survey of graduate students and found that 94% of respondents already had health insurance, Griffith said. The university offers students stipends of up to $750 to use toward health care, and also partners with an outside agency to help students find a plan that best suits them.

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The University Academic Senate last month voted against requiring supplemental health insurance for graduate students and voted to increase scholarships, Griffith said.

Student workers strive for higher wages

Students are pushing for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Some students, Gosizk said, make less than $10 an hour.

Marquette said a new pay structure implemented last fall has increased wages for the majority of student employees. The lowest wage level is between $7.25 and $11 per hour.

This isn’t the first time Marquette employees have tried to unionize

Marquette students and non-tenure track faculty began organizing to unionize in 2018. The university pushed back, saying a third party “may not understand our university, our mission or our guiding values.”

No elections were held and the organizational effort came to nothing.

This time, union members said conditions are more favorable, with a friendlier political climate under the Biden administration and a wave of other unionization efforts at colleges across the country.

In 2023 alone, 26 new bargaining units representing more than 40,000 graduate students, postdoctoral employees or researchers earned certification or voluntary recognition, according to the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.

As Inside Higher Ed reported last month, “It’s a boom time for the organization of higher education.”

Contact Kelly Meyerhofer at kmeyerhofer@gannett.com or 414-223-5168. Follow her on X (Twitter) at @KellyMeyerhofer.

This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Marquette University employees launch unionization efforts ahead of budget cuts

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