KU graduate teaching assistants’ demands for nearly 10% raise rejected; KU moves to impose new contract

photo by: Contributed

At the University of Kansas, the new roof on Wescoe Hall has an 80-foot "KU."

Graduate teaching assistants at the University of Kansas are set to get a pay increase — and a reminder of the balance of power between labor unions and KU administration.

The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday is set to approve a 2.5% pay increase for GTAs. That increase is about a quarter of what the GTA labor union had been seeking in months of negotiation, plus KU has rejected several other demands that ranged from free parking to a special child care stipend for GTAs who also are parents.

The GTA union has not agreed to the wage increase, but KU is using a provision in state law that allows universities to impose new contract terms, if negotiations with a labor union have reached an impasse and an appointed mediator fails to get the two parties to reach an agreement.

Both of those conditions have been met, and now the Regents are poised to approve the new contract without the labor union’s consent this week. The new GTA contract is on the Regents’ consent agenda, which is traditionally reserved for items that are expected to be routinely approved.

KU’s decision to push through the new contract comes on the heels of KU’s faculty last month approving by a large margin a new union to represent everybody from professors to librarians to instructors. Negotiations with that union — which is KU’s largest — are expected to begin this summer, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod has said. The same state law that gives KU the ability to impose contract provisions on the GTA union also will apply to the new faculty union.

As for the 2.5% pay increase for GTAs, that is the same increase most other KU employees received during the just-completed school year. It also is the same as the expected increase that KU employees will receive for the upcoming school year. In past negotiations, KU administrators have taken the position that the GTA pay increase should be in line with KU’s general wage increase.

The GTA union, however, sought a nearly 10% increase — or about $1,800 per year — with the minimum salary for the part-time GTAs increasing to $20,500 per academic year, according to a memo provided to Regents. In addition, the union wanted that wage increase to be retroactive to the last three academic years, according to the memo. KU officials objected to both the size of the increase and the retroactive provision, noting that the GTA union and KU had valid labor contracts that covered the previous three years.

For future years, the GTA union proposed automatic salary increases based on the rate of inflation. KU administration rejected that idea and proposed that separate wage negotiations be had for each future year. KU generally has not committed to future wage increases for any of its employees, but rather has waited to see what level of funding the university receives from the Kansas Legislature each year.

The minimum salary that the Regents are expected to approve for GTAs will be $19,116 for the 2024 academic year, which would be retroactive back to the March 2024 pay period. That’s up from the previous minimum of $18,650. For the upcoming academic year, the minimum salary would increase by another 2.5% to $19,594. For the 2025-2026 academic year, the minimum would increase another 2.5% to $20,084.

The proposed increases aren’t yet keeping up with current inflation, which currently is running above 3%, after months of being significantly higher.

Other provisions that the union sought but that KU declined to agree to include:

• A provision that all GTA positions be increased from their current status of a half-time position to either a three-quarter or full-time position. With those changes, minimum salaries would have increased to about $30,000 for a three-quarter time position or to more than $40,000 for a full-time position.

• A $5,000 stipend for GTAs who have children, plus reimbursement of up to $2,000 per month in child care expenses.

• 100% employer-paid health, prescription and dental insurance.

• Guaranteed five-year funding packages for incoming graduate students, and a voice for the union in recruiting those students.

• $350,000 in university funding for the creation of a new “Joint Committee on Equity, Diversity, Race, Gender, and Disability.”

• Free parking for GTAs in one of the parking garages on campus.

The state law — the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act — that gives KU and other public universities the ability to impose new contract terms on public unions dates back to 1972. The law prohibits university employees from going on strike over a labor dispute. However, the law doesn’t directly prevent protests or other similar actions that could be disruptive to university operations.

GTAs play a large role in teaching classes — especially large numbers of required, entry-level undergraduate classes — at the university. According to a memo to the Regents, there are a little more than 1,000 GTAs, who generally are students who are taking graduate-level courses at KU while undertaking part-time teaching duties at the university.

The Journal-World has reached out via email to the union — the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition — for comment and reaction to KU’s decision to impose new contract terms, but has not yet received a response.

GTAs at KU have been represented by a union since 1995. KU’s general faculty, though, had not been represented by a union until this year. On a vote of 850 to 132, faculty members last month agreed to be represented by the United Academics of the University of Kansas, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and the AFT, formerly known as the American Federation of Teachers. The GTA union also is affiliated with AFT, according to a memo provided to the Regents.

KU administrators have said little about the new faculty union since its creation. Girod did briefly speak about what he expects, in a recent video message that touched on a variety of end-of-academic-year topics for the university community.

“We will begin a process of working with our faculty to see what that looks like in terms of redefining how we work together,” Girod said in the video. “The provost and I are excited to work with our faculty to create the best possible environment right here on our campuses.”

Girod said he expected discussions with union representatives to begin in earnest this summer. The faculty union has said improvements in pay and job security are major issues it wants to discuss as part of a labor agreement.


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