September 16, 2022


Lawrence, Kansas – On Wednesday, September 7, 2022, rank-and-file members of the Graduate Teaching Association Coalition (GTAC) AFT Local 6403 voted to ratify a new contract with the University of Kansas. This ratification concludes a rocky, years-long negotiations process between the GTA union and KU administration that first commenced in September 2020 and endured countless stall-and-delay tactics from the university’s expensive outside legal counsel. For background, after spending eleven months negotiating from 2020 into 2021, the university would not agree to any GTA salary increases for the subsequent three academic years. 

During the contract vote held on December 2, 2021, GTAC’s rank and file rejected KU’s final proposed contract, which was without any guaranteed salary increases. Accounting for the historic inflation level, the university’s final salary proposal in 2021 in fact amounted to a substantial decrease in real pay. After our membership refused ratification, the administration held firm that they would not guarantee any wage increases. The university’s position led the union’s bargaining team to declare negotiations at an impasse on the subject of wages and salaries. As part of the statutory impasse procedure, a fact-finding hearing was held on February 18, 2022 before a neutral, impartial party appointed by the Kansas Department of Labor. At the hearing, the union emphasized the urgency of our unit realizing a living wage, while the employer’s lawyer attempted to rationalize a substantial real wage cut. Despite the employer’s misrepresentations, the neutral fact finder ultimately determined guaranteed salary increases were both necessary and deserved. The parties then continued to negotiate for several months, where the administration reneged on several agreements, before finally reaching a settlement at the end of August 2022. 

The union’s rank and file has now voted to ratify the proposed post-impasse contract, which indeed brought some significant changes. The duration of the contract covers academic years 2021-22 and 2022-23 and is inclusive of a guaranteed—albeit modest—raise for the current academic year. Raises occurred alongside improvements toward a fairer grievance process, and new procedures for graduate instructors who are forced to work beyond their contracted hours. Among other changes, the union further negotiated that GTAs will no longer be required to pay fees for classes related to employment — i.e., orientation and job training. While this contract sadly failed to achieve a living wage for the vast majority of our unit, the enormous personal cost of historic inflation rates compelled the negotiations team and then the union membership to agree to the immediate financial relief this contract offers. With the expiration of the contract at the end of the current academic year, the union will soon resume bargaining with university administration for the living wage and fair contract we deserve. 

There were some proposed changes from the administration that the union did not agree to integrate. This included KU’s original proposal to strike all existing anti-discrimination provisions from the contract. The union’s negotiations team found these proposals not only contrary to the university’s stated values, but also to jeopardize high-quality and inclusive instructional opportunities for our unit members and our students. The union alternatively proposed expanded anti-discrimination provisions, which the administration did not agree to incorporate into the current contract. However, given the apparent institutional patterns of (1) racial discrimiation in access to employment, and (2) occupational segregtiation and wage discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, citizenship status, and gender, the expansion of anti-discrimination protections, as well as fair and equal compensation for equal work, remain the highest priorities for the union. 

Approval of this agreement follows what was the longest negotiation process since the first contract was installed in 1997. Unfortunately, rather than provide graduate instructors the wage increases we earned (as corroborated by the impartial fact finder), the university administration spent lavishly on a team of anti-labor lawyers who work both internally and externally for the university, and who have a disappointing history of fighting against civil rights protections for public servants. While the money used to pay their team of excess lawyers could have supported a living wage for those who teach and produce at least $45 million of tuition revenue at a third of the cost, the university administration instead found suppressing the rights and salaries of graduate instructors to be a higher priority. 

The outside counselor’s exorbitant billable hours included sending numerous cryptic and contradictory messages to the union’s negotiations team, often making fallacious allegations that the union violated statutory requirements for negotiations. Beside filling the pockets of the “MVP” law firm, the true reason for this long, continual pattern of baseless grandstanding is clear. The university’s representatives sought to elongate the process, fracture the union’s rank and file, exhaust the unpaid advocates who fought for improved GTA working conditions, and bypass the statutory good faith meet and confer process. Despite the university’s unjustifiably expensive attempts to derail the mandatory negotiations process, the union’s goals remain even clearer. We will continue to push the university administration for a living wage and fair contract. 

GTAC’s president, Andrew Kustodowicz: “In this era of unprecedented inflation we are excited about the ratification of this new contract and to get the desperately needed $900 raise into the pockets of GTAs, but this is less than we fought for and deserve. GTAC remains steadfast in our mission to protect the exploited graduate workers at KU and are committed to fighting for the living wage.”

GTAC (Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition, AFT-KS Local 6403) is the graduate teaching assistant union at the University of Kansas. GTAC was founded in 1992 and represents all GTAs at the University of Kansas. For more information about the ratification vote, the negotiations process, or the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition, contact gtacunion@gmail.com


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