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Kansas University and a union representing KU graduate students have agreed on a contract that would raise the minimum salary for graduate teaching assistants at the university by $1,000 a year, an increase of about 7.7 percent.
Under the new terms, the salary floor for KU graduate teaching assistants would go from $13,000 to $14,000 for the 2014-15 school year and to $14,250 for 2015-16. KU said it expects the contract to be voted on by the Kansas Board of Regents at its June meeting.
Members of KU's Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition, a union originally founded in the 1990s and affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, said the negotiations with administrators that started in early May were amicable and productive.
"I was very pleased with how negotiations went," said Laurie Petty, a Ph.D. student in sociology at KU and a GTAC member who helped negotiate the new contract. "Everybody seemed to be on the same page with wanting to make changes that benefit GTAs and the university."
The new minimum pay was calculated by the university based on available funds and would raise the pay of 39 percent of GTAs, said Ola Faucher, director of KU's human resources office.
KU's long-term strategic plan calls for an increase in graduate student pay to help advance recruitment efforts. In fall 2013, the average salary for GTAs with a 9-month appointment was $15,072, according to the KU Office of Institutional Research and Planning. At the time KU had 1,108 GTAs.
Across the U.S., the average wage for college GTAs in 2013 was $31,810, more than twice that of GTAs at KU, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In a statement KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said, "This agreement rewards graduate students for their contributions as instructors and will help us recruit talented scholars to continue their studies at KU."
GTAs could see further boosts to their salary under pay increases in KU's most recent tuition proposal to the regents. The proposal calls for merit-based raises and would allow for an average increase of 1.75 percent for faculty and staff across the university, including graduate student workers.
Merit increases for GTAs under the proposal would total $290,000, according to figures provided by KU's public affairs office. Raises for graduate research assistants would cost the university an additional $7,000.
KU administration opened the negotiations over the GTA contract this spring after it had remained unchanged since 2010. Petty said that more than a third of union members voted on the new contract, and it "passed overwhelmingly" among the voting members.
The new contract will last for two years, down from the typical three-year contract of years past. GTAC had requested the change.
"In the past after negotiations, things die down a bit over the next three years," said Shane Willson, a Ph.D. in sociology at KU and a GTAC negotiator. "When it's time to negotiate again, the people who were active last time have graduated and gone off."
The two-year contract will make it easier for the union to establish continuity for its goals and "help the next generation along," Willson said.