KU, graduate teaching assistants settle on 5% pay increase, matching what other employees received

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus is pictured in September 2021.

After two years of negotiations, the University of Kansas and the union that represents its graduate teaching assistants have agreed on a contract that will provide GTAs with a 5% pay increase, matching what other university employees received.

The Kansas Board of Regents this week approved a memorandum of agreement between KU and the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition Local 6403. For most graduate teaching assistants, the raise will amount to an increase of $900 for the school year, bringing their teaching salary to $18,650.

The union’s membership voted to ratify the agreement earlier this month.

“While this contract sadly failed to achieve a living wage for the vast majority of our unit, the enormous personal cost of historic inflation rates compelled the negotiations team and then the union membership to agree to the immediate financial relief this contract offers,” the GTA union said in a press release. “With the expiration of the contract at the end of the current academic year, the union will soon resume bargaining with university administration for the living wage and fair contract we deserve.”

The 5% wage increase for GTAs — who are graduate students who teach a variety of courses at KU while also attending school — ended up being significantly less than the 35% increase over a three-year period that the union originally sought. The union was seeking a $24,000 teaching wage by the 2023-2024 academic year, according to information submitted by KU to the Board of Regents.

The $900 increase ended up being in line with what KU offered the union in December 2021, although not entirely so. KU offered the union a 2022-2023 wage increase that matched the increase that faculty members would receive in the 2022-2023 year, according to information filed with the Regents. However, when that offer was made in December 2021, KU did not know how much, or whether, it would increase faculty pay for the year.

By July 2022, KU leaders had determined faculty and staff would get a 5% wage increase. At that point, KU offered a 5% wage increase to the GTA union for the 2022-2023 school year, and offered to provide a raise in 2023-2024 that is equal to what faculty members receive during that year. KU also said if such a raise in 2023-2024 was less than 2.5%, the GTA union could reopen contract negotiations.

The union rejected that offer, and instead the two sides agreed to the 5% increase for the 2022-2023 school year, and said the two parties will start negotiating again for a contract to cover the 2023-2024 school year.

The two sides met about 30 times over a 16-month period, beginning in September 2020, KU said in the information it provided to the Regents. KU has about 900 graduate teaching assistants, and the union has about 100 dues-paying members, KU said in information submitted to the Regents. The contract covers all GTAs at the university.

The union estimates that GTAs teach classes that generate about $45 million in tuition revenue for KU.

The long, winding pace of the negotiations led to an outside party being appointed to intervene in the negotiations. That outside “fact-finder,” as KU called it in its memo to the Regents, recommended a 2.5% pay increase for GTAs in 2022-2023 and a 2.5% pay increase in 2023-2024. Neither party ended up agreeing to that recommendation.

In addition to the wage issue, the union said the new contract will free GTAs from paying fees for classes that are related to their employment as a GTA, such as orientation and job training classes.

Andrew Kustodowicz, president of the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition, said the union would make new demands of the university for 2023-2024.

“GTAC remains steadfast in our mission to protect the exploited graduate workers at KU and are committed to fighting for the living wage,” Kustodowicz said in a press release.

A KU spokeswoman said KU stood ready to resume negotiations.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with GTAC,” spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said via email on Friday afternoon. “The university stands ready to continue dialogue on issues of importance to our graduate students.”


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