Dear Provost Bichelmeyer and Mr. Rounds,
I am Hannah Bailey, the Grievance Chair of the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition, AFT Local 6403 (GTAC). I am writing to you regarding a Step 4 grievance related to both a traditional work practice, as defined by the Public Employer Employee Relations Act (PEERA), K.S.A. 75-4322(u) and a mandatory topic of bargaining as defined by PEERA, K.S.A. 75-4322(t). Unfortunately, this grievance begins at Step 4, which is the highest level of our procedure. Specifically, this grievance rises to a Step 4 because our Memorandum specifies if a respondent is the subject of the grievance, the grievant moves to the next step in the grievance process. In this email, we have outlined the basis of the grievance and our proposed resolution.
Because the University and GTAC have not yet agreed to the procedures and timelines for the GTA GRC and because such procedures are the center of an existing charge before the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), we propose that the University and GTAC come to a temporary agreement as to these procedures to allow us to resolve this exigent grievance. After a careful evaluation of the circumstances, we feel that it is feasible to convene a GRC for this grievance and that, unlike some pending Step 4 grievances, this situation warrants immediate action. Towards that end, we have attached a draft set of hearing procedures with a data table and timeline for this specific grievance. We would appreciate it if you could review them and let us know if you’re amenable to these or similar exigent procedures for resolving this grievance.
Alternatively, because our proposed resolution is not a difficult one and has no financial implications, the University could agree to this resolution and thereby bypass the exigent need for the GRC. We would also be willing to hear alternate resolutions, bearing in mind the extremely limited time available to resolve this issue before our work and classes begin on August 18th and 24th, respectively.
The basis of the grievance is as follows:
On August 1st, 2020, GTAC became aware that a limited number of chairs and deans were attempting to unilaterally change the working conditions of some unit workers without consultation or the consent of the impacted workers. These changes were in violation of:
- PEERA, K.S.A. 75-4321 et seq.,
- the written statements of the workers,
- the policy set by Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer, and
- the traditional work practices of those departments and schools.
When workers attempted to utilize the negotiated grievance procedure to address these violations, chairs responded by personally calling in workers to harass and intimidate them into “consenting” to such working conditions, by sending communications including their dean in which they jointly threatened to terminate workers for the exercise of their rights, and/or scheduling mandatory worker meetings in which deans and chairs indicated that any exercise of union rights or challenges to these unilateral changes would result in termination of their employment by the University. We have records of these events, including emails and recordings of meetings.
Unilateral imposition of changes to our working conditions, attempts to intimidate workers who are exercising their union rights, and threats of termination related to the free exercise of union rights are all prohibited practices under Kansas state law. One remedy to these concerns would be to file additional charges against the University with the Public Employee Relations Board. However, because these violations are atypical and conflict with University policy, we would rather embrace this as an opportunity to engage together in cooperative problem-solving before taking steps to involve the recently reinvigorated PERB, which has achieved quorum and is now hearing charges.
As such, our proposed resolution is that the University send a memo to all deans and chairs with the following information and instructions:
- Deans and chairs cannot force unit workers to teach on-campus during the Fall 2020 semester if such duties might compromise their health or the health of their families. Additionally, deans and chairs must respect written statements regarding teaching preferences for Fall 2020 in accordance with the policy set by the Provost in June 2020.
- Deans and chairs cannot engage in intimidation, harassment, or threats related to written teaching preferences or the exercise of union and worker rights. These types of actions are harmful to our University and are prohibited by both law and University policy. Engaging in harmful and/or prohibited actions may result in reassignment, discipline, or termination from the University.
- That department chairs email all unit workers and the employee organization with the following:
- an affirmation of the rights of unit workers,
- the email address and URL for the employee organization, and
- a simple mechanism by which workers can indicate if their working conditions still need to be adjusted to meet these provisions.
Regarding the simple mechanism, we feel it would be best if each chair could choose a method that they feel will work best for their department, as long as this method is not onerous or prohibitive. As examples, asking workers to email their department chair would be simple and may work best for some departments, while others may use a shared spreadsheet, utilize a department-wide Slack channel, or some other method.
In heavily impacted departments, we feel it would be best if the method of correction excluded direct communication with the department chair, instead directing workers to communicate with a different department worker, such as their DGS, faculty advisors, or department support worker. We will provide the thankfully short list of these departments if this resolution is accepted.
We believe this non-punitive corrective action will allow this situation to be remedied without escalating hostilities or interfering in University operations. Additionally, sending this letter with a matter-of-fact tone to all deans and chairs would allow the few deans and chairs who have engaged in these actions to reverse their current courses of action without being placed in the spotlight, while serving to help other chairs avoid future issues. Altogether, this resolution seeks to resolve the situation and to educate deans and chairs while also helping to build trust in the culture of transparency and caring which Provost Bichelmeyer is admirably working to revive.
Thank you for your time. We look forward to your response.
Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition
AFT Local 6403, AFL-CIO