The Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition at the University of Kansas filed four charges with the Kansas Department of Labor against KU for violating a memorandum of agreement that was negotiated in 2018.
GTAC alleged KU administrators ordered workers to work without pay, denied the organization its rights to file grievances, refused to communicate with the organization to resolve grievances, and excluded appointed representatives from meetings regarding how KU planned to hold classes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Members said already strained relationships with KU administrators were broken completely after administrators did not change their treatment of GTA union workers. After a meeting with the newly appointed provost, Barbara Bichelmeyer, members said they were originally hopeful for the future.
"Last year, the senior administrator in KU’s HR department said that KU views union interactions as ‘inherently hostile,’" said GTAC President Neill Kennedy. "So if you’re a group who wants to build a cooperative, respectful relationship and the other group wants nothing but oppositional engagements, where can you go with that? Nowhere, it feels like."
“That’s why we were so excited to have Barb Bichelmeyer on board," Kennedy continued. "She represents an opportunity to finally work together to achieve the University our students deserve.”
KU leadership provided a breakdown Thursday of what the 26% loss of its general operating budget will affect. If students don't return for in-person instruction, KU leadership anticipates “the shortfall will increase significantly.”
However, GTAC political chair Patrick Gauding said administrators continued to treat GTAs poorly and have not listened to the union’s concerns. Administrators disregarded grievance procedures that were established in their 2018 contract, Gauding said.
GTAC members said it left them with no other choice. The “escalation of hostilities” led the union to file four charges against KU with the state’s Public Employee Relations Board, according to a news release from GTAC.
PERB handles unfair labor practice complaints against public employers, according to the Kansas Department of Labor website.
GTAC’s exclusion from KU’s decision to move classes online in March was a violation of state law, which would require administrators to negotiate a change in workplace conditions with its workers, Gauding told the Kansan.
He said GTAC agreed with the decision to move online and did not attempt to address the violation. But KU did not include GTAC in the decision to return to in-person classes, which would constitute another change in workplace conditions.
“At this point, the University has not involved GTAC in a single decision, a single committee meeting, nothing regarding the return to campus,” Gauding said. “So they’re making decisions about how we’re going to work, without [including] us.”
The charges also refer to a Lawrence-Journal World story in which Bichelmeyer said GTAs taking a leave of absence from teaching during the pandemic would be an “illegal strike under Kansas law.”
Jill Hummels, director of external affairs at the provost’s office, said it is KU’s practice not to comment on proceedings such as these as they are underway, and declined an interview request with Bichelmeyer.
Gauding said GTAC had plans to renegotiate its contract with KU in April, but agreed to delay further negotiations until the fall to allow administrators to deal with the implications of the coronavirus.