Kansas University just isn't listening to its graduate teaching assistants, the students said Thursday.
"We're getting worn down," said Kyle Waugh, co-president of the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition. "It's really disheartening to see the lack of respect that the university has for its employees."
With the start of school looming, the graduate students are mulling KU's latest offer in labor contract negotiations that have dragged on more than a year.
KU spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said the university has been generous in its offers.
But the students say KU administration has barely moved since negotiations started. KU has about 900 graduate teaching assistants, not all of whom are coalition members.
"The university unfortunately is totally unwilling to compromise on anything," Waugh said.
The students could return a decision on KU's contract offer as early as Monday, said Katy Martin, a graduate student and coalition lead negotiator.
The student negotiators are polling their members and asking them to weigh in on the offer. They may meet Monday and decide whether to take the offer.
"Everybody is just getting a little fatigued with the process and ready to get it done," Martin said. "At the same time, they don't want to lay down and take what they give us."
KU negotiators offered to increase the pool for merit raises for the teaching assistants by 11.3 percent and increase the minimum salary by $1,000 to $11,000 for the new year. That minimum would increase to $11,500 the next year and $12,000 in year three, according to the administration's offer.
"We would really like to get merit raises in the pockets of GTAs," Bretz said.
The students' most recent salary request - a reduction from their earlier stance - is for an increase of $1,000 per year in the minimum salary over the next three years.
But money isn't the only issue the sides have sparred over. Bretz said KU officials think the nonmonetary issues brought to the table haven't been meaty enough to derail plans for merit increases.
But the students have pressed hard for several nonmonetary items and say KU hasn't budged on them.
The students wanted to change the grievance procedure and add an impartial committee to the process. Bretz said there have only been two grievances in two years - not enough to justify a change in the current process.
The students wanted e-mail addresses and other information about new GTAs in order to contact them for possible recruitment into the coalition. They also wanted access to GTAs at orientation sessions and some relief to the 10-semester limit on the amount of time GTAs can fill their posts.
Those requests have been turned aside by the administration, Martin said.
"I have been pretty amazed at how willing they are to just ignore our concerns and our realities," Martin said. "We're trying to make our own ends meet. I think that's a reasonable thing to want."
Howard Graham, a negotiator and GTA in humanities and western civilization, described his situation.
He gets a tuition waiver and is paid about $11,000 annually for his work as a GTA. Those duties include teaching two classes of about 20 students per week, plus holding at least three office hours per week.
Graham, who works a second job, said GTAs earn less than KU's own calculations of what it costs to go to KU annually.
"I don't feel that I'm all that appreciated by the university," he said.