Officials representing Kansas University and its graduate teaching assistants are optimistic GTAs will have a tentative contract as early as today.
An agreement between KU and the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition would end 22 months of negotiations. The two sides quit meeting in February, saying they needed to know more about the state budget and tuition rates before making any decisions. Talks resume today.
"We're hopeful because we felt the university had made its most serious offer to us in February," said Robert Vodicka, the coalition's lead negotiator. "We're hopeful if things progress this way, we'll be able to come to an agreement."
Salaries are the final unresolved issue. Vodicka, a GTA in Western Civilization, said KU's letter requesting today's meeting with the coalition promised a "significant salary offer."
"I think GTAs will hear a very sincere, attractive proposal," said Lynn Bretz, director of university relations. "I think this is a good window of opportunity."
KU's initial salary offer was to establish base salaries of $7,000 the first year, $7,700 the second year and $8,400 the third year. It also included money for merit increases.
The coalition requested base salaries of $11,000 for the first year of the contract, followed by $12,000 and $13,000 the next two years.
The average KU GTA salary was $9,946 per year in fall 2001; there was no base salary.
Both sides said they came closer to an agreement during the February meeting but declined to disclose specific numbers. The meeting was the first since the two sides declared impasse in December.
But much has changed in the past five months. Budget cuts have forced the elimination of some university positions and several departments, and faculty and staff members won't be receiving salary increases.
The Kansas Board of Regents also approved a 25.2 percent increase in tuition. KU officials have said some of the additional money will go to graduate teaching and research salaries.
Coalition members have said increasing salaries should be a long-term commitment not affected by the bad budget year.
"With the exception of the facilities and operations people, we're by far the most badly paid," Vodicka said. "Our salaries are more out of whack with our peer institutions than faculty, for example. Even with the best offer, it doesn't put us at the top of the heap. It puts us back in the game."
Bretz said KU's offer today would show a commitment to its GTAs, and she said she was confident other university employees would support GTA salary increases.
"I think what we've been saying all along is we recognize GTA salaries are low here, and I think the faculty and staff realize that, too," she said.
If the two sides come to an agreement on salaries, the contract would have to be approved by a majority of the about-200 coalition members; there are about 900 GTAs on campus.
If there is no agreement, the process would turn to fact-finding, in which the Kansas Public Employees Review Board would determine the contract.
The previous GTA contract, ratified in 1997, remains in effect until the new contract is ratified.