Graduate teaching assistants from several states joined Kansas University GTAs Friday in a rally to seek university-subsidized health care.
Some carried signs that said "Health Care Now." Others shouted at passing motorists to "Honk for health care!"
Still other graduate teaching assistants spoke at a rally at noon Friday on the steps of Kansas University's Wescoe Hall. The rally was designed to raise awareness that KU GTAs don't have employer-paid health care.
"A lot of us here have no health care at all, because it's simply too expensive," Karen Hellekson, president of Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition, KU's new GTA union, told about 70 people who gathered at the rally.
Hellekson, a GTA in English, said 100 percent of the people who responded to a survey GTAC put out last semester said they wanted health-care benefits.
She said the union was trying to let undergraduates know that KU depends heavily on its 1,100 GTAs to teach a fourth of KU's classes.
"We save the university a lot of money, yet we still aren't getting health care, which GTAs say is tremendously important to them," Hellekson said. "We've asked for it before, but the administration has said it would be too expensive."
GTAs say that their combined salaries are $8 million and that filling those classes with tenure-track professors would cost the state more than $30 million.
KU's administration has said that providing full health coverage for GTAs would cost $2.9 million a year at a cost of $216 each a month. But GTAC says KU could provide a $100 monthly subsidy for basic individual coverage for about $1 million a year.
Richard Buck, a GTA in Western Civilization, said GTAs now pay for the health-care plan offered by KU to students, which for a single GTA is $204 every three months.
"What we'd like is some help paying that from the university. It would cost about $800,000 a year to subsidize health care for GTAs -- not pay the whole cost, just subsidize," he said. "We are employees. And we feel like, as the other employees here have the right and have reasonable access to health care, we should as well."
At the rally, several GTAs from unions at other universities spoke in support of KU GTAs getting employer-subsidized health care.
"It's been done in Wisconsin, it's been done in Michigan, it's been done in Oregon and it can be done in Kansas," said Dan Graff, co-president of the Teaching Assistants Assn., a union at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Graff said the TAA at has been able to bargain for free comprehensive health coverage for Wisconsin University graduate teaching assistants and their families.
Alan Moore, a University of Oregon graduate teaching assistant, said their GTA union has also bargained for a good plan over the years.
"No longer do people have to let their teeth rot in Oregon to get a Ph.D.," he said.