Last updated at 7:25 p.m.
On Monday, University of Kansas faculty and academic staff announced that they would be attempting to unionize to improve working conditions for educators and the learning conditions on campus.
Over the last two years, the conversation of unionizing was sparked, but this will be the first organized effort for a union on campus.
If successful, the United Academics of the University of Kansas (UAKU) will represent over 1,500 full-time and part-time tenured and non-tenured-track faculty. This union will be affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
“Within the last two years, there have been ongoing conversations around faculty's feelings of distrust with the administration, frustration around our salaries,” Stephanie Meehan, a member of UAKU and a clinical assistant professor in the speech-language-hearing department, said in an interview with the Kansan. “We’re some of the lowest paid faculty in the group of universities that are very similar to us, and seeing how those decisions were negatively impacting our students.”
One of the big factors the unionization is built upon is financials and salaries. This comes after several budget cuts to the University in recent years. For the upcoming fiscal year, the University is not planning any budget cuts after an increase in funding.
“We're also interested in negotiating more equitable contracts related to our salaries,” Meehan said. “We've been in about a decade's long period without salary increases, and we're losing faculty to other universities over that.”
In a press release, the AFT said that the push for unionization was prompted by a lack of respect for those who teach.
“KU’s recent attempt to suspend tenure and its over-reliance on short-term contracts for many teaching faculty, no voice in major decisions about academic programs, stagnant wages that are not competitive with other flagship universities, and a decline in state funding that hinders the kind of world-class research that benefits all Kansans” were among the reasons for the push.
Another issue at hand is faculty and stakeholders being left out of the big conversations involving education at the University.
“Another factor of the unionization is to make sure that we as faculty and academic staff have a voice at the table when major decisions are being made that affect the education provided at KU,” Meehan said.
The last significant factor is the student body. UAKU wants to provide a better learning environment for the students at the University.
“We want the best learning conditions possible, and we need to be able to be part of those decisions,” Meehan said.
Throughout the rest of the semester and the spring semester, UAKU will work to get union cards signed, and they hope to vote to unionize in the 2023 fall semester.
This is the first step in the unionization process. According to the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency regulating union activity, 30% of the group eligible to be part of the union must sign these cards before an election can take place.
“So this is our first day going public with the effort, so the next step is to get people to sign their union cards,” Meehan said.
A statement from a KU spokesperson said that the University will continue to communicate with faculty.
“University of Kansas leaders look forward to continued conversations with faculty and instructors about ways to move the university forward,” KU spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said.