I am writing in response to the article that Sydney Hoover wrote for the University Daily Kansan on Oct 2, 2018 entitled “Despite minimum salary increase, GTA contracts still have work to be done.” While I was happy to see that the UDK is drawing attention to issues related to graduate worker labor, I wanted to highlight a number of important gains from our most recent round of negotiations that weren’t mentioned in the article.
In addition to three years of guaranteed raises, we made huge strides in our working conditions, including two weeks of sick and six weeks of parental work adjustments, which function as paid leave; improved grievance rights and a democratic process for those grievances; and an expanded non-discrimination clause which include protections around sexuality, race, ethnicity, and gender expression. We also fought for and won greater recourse against termination, including the right to review; protection against cancelled short courses during term appointments (meaning that we still get paid if it doesn't make enrollment goals); a new progressive discipline policy; the right to instructional resources including desks, office space, free printing, Internet-enabled computers, and more; support for research including paid release time for conferences and other professionalization; and $60,000 in matching funds to the Educational Opportunity Fund Child Care Grant.
I agree that the University of Kansas has much work to do in terms of fair pay and working conditions for GTAs and other graduate workers. In the meantime, all of these gains are the result of the hard work of the GTAs who put in countless hours surveying our unit in Fall 2017 to determine our priorities in negotiations, and then months of negotiations over Spring and Summer 2018. KU has estimated that we spent 190 collective hours in negotiations alone, not counting the time our team spent researching and preparing proposals.
Our negotiations are an open and collective process and our team was comprised of unit members from across a number of departments. They fought for the things we said we wanted, and although we didn’t win on every issue, all of these successes have been achieved for graduate students who labor as GTAs by regular people who are fighting for all of the same rights that all workers at any university should be afforded.
Finally, regarding the issue of leave of absence that the article mentioned—I am happy to report that the right to a leave of absence is a long-standing provision achieved a number of years ago. It can be found in Article 5, Section 11 of our contract, which is available publicly at https://tinyurl.com/2018GTAC. The fact that Brittany felt as though her job was threatened when she suffered an adverse life event is exactly why we need our union. Brittany and every other GTA deserve to feel secure and respected in our workplace, and that is exactly why we must stand together in union.
If any GTA has questions about our contract, needs help with a workplace issue, are uncertain if it’s a “worker” issue or a “student” issue, or even unsure if it’s an issue at all, call your department union steward! If you don’t know your steward, you can email our Chief Steward Justin Preddie at email@example.com. If you want to become a full member of our union, you can find the online form at tinyurl.com/joinGTAC or reach out to our Vice-President Neill Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org for a paper card.