A hearing scheduled for today before a state board on the request by Kansas University graduate students to form a union has been postponed until Jan. 16.
KU officials were granted a continuance because they weren't prepared to proceed with the Kansas Public Employee Relations Board hearing.
PERB will decide if KU graduate teaching assistants and graduate research assistants have the right to vote on whether to start a union.
Ed Meyen, executive vice chancellor at KU, said the university requested a continuance because it needed more time to prepare documents for the hearing.
"It's a major undertaking," Meyen said.
David Reidy, head of the KU Graduate Employee Organization Steering Committee, said GTAs and GRAs believe they could negotiate better salaries and benefits through collective bargaining.
The KU administration's position is that GTAs and GRAs have no standing to form a collective bargaining unit and that a union will hinder the university's mission.
HOWARD Mossberg, interim vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and public service and dean of the graduate school, said GTAs and GRAs have more characteristics of a student than of an employee.
"Our hope is that relationship won't be changed," he said.
Mossberg said designating graduate students as employees in the broadest sense of the word would harm the university's decentralized management structure.
"The relationship is collegial with the administration and departments decentralized. Do we want to change the way the university is set up?" Mossberg said.
"I'm hard-pressed to see how our bargaining would compromise the mission of the university," Reidy said.
The KU administration's position on the union effort has been denouced by KU's Student Senate and University Senate Executive Committee.
Reidy said that if PERB decides in the students' favor, the continuance means the union vote would be delayed until late in the spring semester.
"WE KNEW that this could turn into a multiyear project," Reidy said.
Although some students at the core of the union campaign will graduate soon, Reidy said the union movement won't fizzle.
"We have new people getting on board," he said. "By no means has our commitment diminished."
The KU graduate student committee was required by PERB to obtain the signatures of 500 graduate students to seek authorization for a union vote. That step was completed in April.
If GTAs and GRAs eventually endorse formation of a collective bargaining unit, the student group has proposed that students be represented by the Kansas Association of Public Employees. KAPE is the largest union of state employees in Kansas.
Reidy said that during the past 25 years, graduate employees at KU have carried a larger share of the teaching and research load. GTAs now teach about half of the undergraduate courses.
However, Reidy said, salaries paid GTAs are low. The average annual salary of a GTA at KU is $7,400, and the typical teaching assistant works an average of 20 hours a week. At the University of Iowa, GTAs made $10,000 last year.
He said graduate students also are motivated by a desire to bargain with the university for health-insurance benefits. Some universities provide health coverage to GTAs and GRAs when they are hired, Reidy said.