9/15 Agenda: 7pm
Officer Reports: 15 minutes
Old Business: 10 minutes
New Business: 30 minutes
- AFT Convention
- General Meeting
- Grad Worker Union Strike Support
- Disaster Relief
“The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor.” ―AFL-CIO
Today is Labor Day, a holiday intended for workers like us to celebrate these victories and enjoy rest from work. Meanwhile, the rest of the world takes May Day to commemorate the martyrs of the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, who died fighting for a balance between their labor, rest, and recreation. (Sound familiar to us at KU right now?)
Why do we have Labor Day instead of May Day? To isolate us from our fellow workers globally and from our own radical U.S. labor history. It’s been more than 130 years since our fellow workers gave their lives at Haymarket to achieve this balance, and right now, we’re once again forced to fight bosses who want to disrupt that balance. Right now, basic needs like fair pay, affordable quality health care, and fair functional work schedules are considered radical at the University of Kansas, and all over the county. How can we fight back?
By enforcing our right to fair duties and fair hours of work. GTAs should not be asked to create or develop course materials, to complete any duty which is not instructional, or (for .50FTE workers) working more than 20 hours per week. GTAs who are expected to create or develop course materials should click here to find out how to access compensation for that work. GTAs who have been or will be working more hours than agreed by their FTE should click here to find out about back pay and/or an increased FTE to cover actual hours worked.
President Neill Kennedy
It has always been working people acting collectively who create change – on the streets and at work. It has always been our labor movement that fights for ourselves and our communities and better lives for all. Today we can see unionized grad workers all over the country fighting and winning, from summer healthcare and affordable housing for our union comrades in GEO AFT Local 6300 at UIUC to our own Fall 2020 pay raises here with GTAC AFT Local 6403, we continue to demonstrate that we can achieve together what would be impossible to achieve individually.
All wins begins with workers connecting. Because GTAs are transitory workers, it can be difficult to sustain our connections over cycles of admission and graduation. Time and again, KU admin have chosen to exploit this weakness to exploit our labor and our lives. How can we fight back?
By connecting to win!
- Communicate! Add your non-KU contact info to keep up with the latest news.
- Stand together! Level up to a full membership today to build our union power.
- Fight! Take action to win raises during our Fall 2020 contract negotiations.
- Win! Enjoy more raises, like the four raises negotiated in our 2018 contract negotiations.
Labor Day Strike? On Friday, we sent an email endorsing the KU Labor Day Student Strike and asking all GTAs to sign their petition. Workers have reached out with questions about participation in this event, so we have put together an FAQ on strikes and absences. If you participated in the the KU Labor Day Student Strike, please click here for the FAQ! Glad to be a part of a labor union? This is a time when our solidarity matters more than ever – click here to become a dues paying member of GTAC.
Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition
AFT Local 6403
When we fight, we win!
What is a strike?
A strike is when a group of workers plan together to not go to work on the same day, or days. It is also known as a concerted work stoppage. To qualify as a strike, it must be concerted, or organized within a group of workers. If many GTAs individually decided to cancel work to attend a political event at the Kansas Statehouse, that would not be a strike. If GTAC officers planned a day in which GTAs scheduled to work instead refused to work, that would be a concerted work stoppage. A concerted work stoppage is illegal under both state law and our employment contract. While we endorse this student strike, we are not also calling for a GTA strike.
Is the KU Labor Day Student Strike an illegal strike?
No. Only public workers are barred from striking by Kansas law, just as they are barred from striking in Colorado, Georgia, Oklahoma, Virginia, and West Virginia. The KU Labor Day Student Strike was organized by undergraduate students at the University of Kansas, not by workers. This student strike is an act of political expression, thereby protected under the First Amendment.
How can I support the KU Labor Day Student Strike?
First, by signing this petition. Next, by letting your students know that you support this action. Finally, by working with them to accommodate their absence, just as you would for any other type of absence for Fall 2020.
Can I participate in the KU Labor Day Student Strike?
- If you are a GTA who is enrolled in a course which meets on Labor Day, you can choose to participate with no consequence to your work as a GTA.
- If you are a GTA who teaches a course which is scheduled to meet on Labor Day, our contract requires that you comply with all departmental practices for canceling a class, moving a class, or otherwise being absent from a class.
- Many GTAs have the power to reschedule or cancel their classes.
- If your department has a written policy which is used by GTAs, you should follow that policy.
- If your department has no written policy, you may follow whatever traditional practices are in place.
- If your department has a written policy which is not followed, you should instead follow whatever traditional practices are in place.
What if following my departmental policy means that I can’t reschedule or move my class?
If your departmental policy says that you must seek permission and permission is denied, and you choose to participate in the KU Labor Day Student Strike, you could be at risk of discipline. This chart details the steps taken before you can be disciplined for student strike participation. This chart details the discipline process itself.
My chair has scheduled a meeting because of this absence. What do I do?
As a union worker, you have the right to have a union steward by your side in any meeting which is investigatory or disciplinary in nature, or which could become investigatory or disciplinary. Your supervisor or chair must wait to have the meeting until a GTAC steward is available. If you need a GTAC steward, reach out to the Grievance Chair Hannah Bailey by email. If it’s an emergency, reach out to President Neill Kennedy at 785-817-0351.
Oh no! I already had a disciplinary meeting but didn’t know my union rights. What do I do now?
If you are disciplined for participating in this event, please ceach out to the Grievance Chair Hannah Bailey by email. If it’s an emergency, reach out to President Neill Kennedy at 785-817-0351.
What happens if I am counseled or disciplined?
Within our union negotiated process of progress discipline, KU “shall apply the least severe discipline possible” which “will reasonably accomplish the desired alteration of conduct or performance”. Your chair must consider your work history, any mitigating circumstances, and nature of the incident. Because the undesirable conduct is that you cancelled work duties to engage in political protest, your chair should consider any past incidents of cancelling work duties.
If you have have not previously been counseled or disciplined for being absent without leave, your department chair should begin with counseling. If you have previously been counseled for cancelling work duties, your department chair could choose to schedule another counseling meeting or to escalate to other discipline. At every step of this process after counseling, you have the right to grieve (appeal) this discipline, and trained GTAC union stewards are available to represent you. This chart details our progressive discipline process. (If you are interested in steward training, click here!)
What if following my departmental policy means that I can’t reschedule or move my class?
If your departmental policy says that you must seek permission and permission is denied, and you choose to participate in the KU Labor Day Student Strike, you could be at risk of discipline. This chart details the steps taken before you can be disciplined for student strike participation.
In case you missed it, KU Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer recently accused our community of being unreasonably attached to a desire for “certainty” and said we are simply “not motivated to seek understanding”. She is upset that we sought understanding by listening to expert scientists and scholars, in the areas of epidemiology, public health, disability studies, health equity, and accessibility in higher education, all of whom advised staying online. In her statement, Bichelmeyer did not once acknowledge that in some things, we have the right to certainty.
First, KU workers and students had the right to be certain that decisions about us would be made with us through our system of shared governance. Instead, KU refused to include University Senate in their decision making and refused to engage with the GTA union until they filed suit.
Next, our students deserved to be certain that their instructors would have the time and ability to create accessible and quality online curriculum driven by a Provost whose area of expertise is exactly that – the pedagogy of online learning. Instead, they are struggling alongside first year GTAs, some only months from their own time as undergraduates, creating coursework on the fly, with no training in pedagogy, classroom management, or basic tools for student accessibility.
Finally, the entire Lawrence community deserved to be certain that the Bichelmeyer and Chancellor Doug Girod would take proactive and science-informed action to reduce unnecessary harm to our community. Instead, Bichelmeyer and Girod have chosen to treat the lives of students, workers, and Lawrencians as disposable. Even today, they refuse to tell us how many deaths would trigger a shut-down, or how many of us can be written off as an “acceptable loss”.
Now Bichelmeyer suggests those of us who concurred with the well-sourced positions of top experts are just hampered by anxiety, naively attached to facile certainty. But for the Provost to dismiss the scientific and ethical positions informed by research and scholarship is to negate the entire mission of our University. Worse, choosing to strategically manage their image instead of strategically managing public health and quality education is unacceptable. KU administrators are not responding to a threat to public health – they are a threat to public health.
Right now, Provost Bichelmeyer and Girod are forcing workers and students to interact in-person prior to receiving Covid-19 test results; the student clinic is refusing to test people with close extended contact with those infected with Covid-19; and despite Bichelmeyers’ crowing about mass testing, workers and students have experienced testing errors, lost or delayed results, and this past weekend, an entirely unstaffed KU testing site, where people with appointments were met with an empty parking lot. Throughout this, these workers and students are forced to become walking, talking infection vectors. Rather than “Jayhawks Rising”, we have Covid-19 levels rising.
Although Bichelmeyer and Girod insisted that “overwhelming” undergraduate demand required in-person reopening, the truth is that their survey was fraudulent, undergraduate students have filled nearly every course offered online, students who enrolled in-person have now requested over 2,000 accommodations towards online learning, and this Labor Day, those same undergraduate students will be striking to protest the very thing Bichelmeyer and Girod are risking lives to provide.
This Labor Day, Provost Barb Bichelmeyer and Chancellor Doug Girod must do as they insisted was right all along by following the leadership of our undergraduate students and closing this campus.
President Neill Kennedy
Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition
AFT Local 6403 at the University of Kansas
How do I get captioning into my lectures? What are the best practices to increase engagement in the online format? How can we be inclusive and address the needs of International undergraduate students? Join GTAC on Thursday for a GTA-to-GTA Online Teaching Q&A via Zoom!
On Thursday, September 3rd, GTAC hosted a Teaching Online Co-Learning session on Zoom. Hipatia Medina, SPAN presented on teaching international students, Lauren Anderson, ELPS presented on online teaching practices, and Patrick Gauding, POLS presented on presentation quality and closed captioning for online teaching.
See the video below!
Most links are not contained within the original email. They are added here for reader context.
Sat 9/5/2020 6:49 PM
From: Gauding, Patrick John
To: Julie A. Thornton
Cc: Rose Welch; Neill Kennedy; Rounds, Mike; Leitch, Michael
Subject: University Concerns about GTAC Communications
We appreciate your reaching out to us on this issue and are glad to see more open communication from KU. While neither Rose nor I is the person responsible for social media for email communications, we can certainly understand your concerns. We also agree that these are serious matters and want to respond to your concerns with the gravity they deserve. Please understand that we are committed to maintaining open lines of communication with you, your department, and our University.
Regarding GTAC endorsement of the KU Labor Day Student Strike: We can confirm that GTAC did and will continue to publicly endorse the KU Labor Day Student Strike and any future student actions which support the principles and mission of of our University. Our GTAs feel that, as teachers, we have a moral duty to protect and defend the well-being and rights of our students. GTAC thereby must stand in solidarity with our students on this matter. The University’s allegation that a statement of support for our students constitutes “endors[ing] conduct that is illegal” neglects the fact that GTAC has not and cannot sign away individual or organizational First Amendment rights via a written memorandum.
For the University to declare to us that encouraging the signing of a petition or referencing our duty to engage in statutorily mandated activity constitutes “conduct that is illegal and violates our MOA” is a clear attempt at prior restraint by a government entity.
Regarding the reference to defending GTAs: A “promise to defend disciplined GTAs” is not, in fact, a “legally reckless position” – it is statutorily mandated and the ethical obligation of GTAC towards our duty of fair representation. We can and will defend and protect all GTAs who face discipline from our University for individual participation in the KU Labor Day Student Strike.
Regarding a work stoppage: We agree that were GTAC to engage in a concerted work stoppage, such actions could be considered a strike and KU could attempt to discipline participating GTAs and/or bring charges against our union. However, in this instance, GTAC specifically and explicitly named concerted work stoppages as illegal action within our public communications and similar messages via internal communication channels. Moreover, planning a strike is not illegal – only the execution thereof, when unsuccessful. Threatening our workers for possible future actions, however, could be construed as prior restraint, which is illegal.
Regarding termination of GTAs: We must advise you that were KU to seek to terminate the employment of individual GTAs who engage in political expression by participating in the KU Labor Day Student Strike, we would be legally and morally bound to provide them both representation and a robust defense, which would include:
- an appeal of any discipline related to participation in a concerted work stoppage, based on an evidence-supported denial that a concerted work stoppage occurred, using the Friday email which endorses GTA support specifically by signing a petition, explicitly naming concerted work stoppages as illegal and warning of possible disciplinary consequences, along with other internal communications showing that the KU Labor Day Student Strike does not meet the defining tests of a concerted work stoppage by an employee organization,
- during the process of appeal, demanding that KU show similar termination attempts for every single worker who missed a day of work over the last five years,
- if, during the process of appeal, the University failed to show similar termination attempts for workers who miss a single day of work, filing charges against the University for discrimination,
- invoking through all channels the worker’s individual right to free expression under the First Amendment,
- holding the University accountable for violations of the worker’s individual right to free expression under the First Amendment, using this communication to show evidence of the prior restraint and usage of “chilling effect” tactics to suppress the free speech of union workers, and
- grieving the University’s violation of the progressive discipline clause of our Memorandum of Agreement in seeking the termination of GTAs prior to counseling, letters of disciplinary action, suspension, and/or suspension without pay.
Regarding “calling out” as ill: GTAC has neither endorsed nor even mentioned a “sick out” nor have we seen any individual or group advise or even mention “calling out” sick. The student organization leading this action specifically directed participants to communicate to the University exactly why they will not be in class – because they are participating in an act of political expression, and not because they are ill. Please know that we are committed to our work as GTAs and as responsible members of our community. We would not “call out” sick without being sick, especially during a time when so many people are genuinely ill. Were any individual GTA to refuse to count students as absent for participating in this act of free expression, they would in fact be following instructions as articulated in our Memorandum because:
- most instructors set their own attendance policy,
- in most departments in which attendance policies are set at the departmental level, individual instructors are required to use their own judgement as to excusing absences,
- the University has directed instructional workers, including GTAs, to offer instruction in which a student can continue with course materials at any time, in any place thereby negating the entire concept of “missing” a class,
- the University has directed instructional workers, including GTAs, to refrain from deducting points based on attendance for the Fall 2020 semester or penalizing students for absences, and
- the Memorandum requires that we abide by all laws which supersede the Memorandum, and penalizing students for engaging in free political expression would be a violation of such a law.
Regarding aspersions to our service: Supporting our undergraduate students and defending our members from unfair and retaliatory discipline is the opposite of a disservice – it is exactly this type of service which is the moral and legal duty of our union. This is not the first time that the University has attacked our integrity or acted to damage our reputation with our members. Conversely, these University actions do a real disservice to GTAs, our students, and our University as a whole by placing the University in a position of liability under PEERA, and because these actions damage our ability to cooperatively engage in full communication as intended and required by law.
Regarding the nature of this action: We must say that we are troubled by having received this communication about a Covid-19 related student protest, when taken in context with other Covid-19 related University actions. We have seen the University make claims that were disproven by data, and yet continue to make those claims after public debunking. We have seen well-sourced analyses of Covid-19 infection and institutional planning data coming from (or failing to come from) our University that compares negatively with similar institutions. We have seen illegal delays in responses to information requests related to Covid-19 placed by multiple public interest organizations under the Kansas Open Records Act. Now we see what seems to be a rather problematic response to a very normal student action. Taken together, these activities are very troubling. We would appreciate it if you could communicate our concern to the appropriate parties within the University.
Finally, while we must reiterate that GTAC has not violated the law nor our Memorandum of Agreement, we are willing to make an accommodation towards your concerns, in the spirit of cooperation. Specifically, we could agree to send an email to our unit explaining that public workers cannot strike, with specific citations and links to our Memorandum and PEERA, as well as outline the possible disciplinary consequences of violating departmental absence policies. We could similarly post this message on our website, within our private communication channels, and in all places where our Friday email was published. In turn, the University would agree:
- to accept this as evidence that GTAC has not endorsed a work stoppage,
- that no GTA be disciplined for engaging in a concerted work stoppage in relation to this student strike,
- and that instead, if a department chair chose to seek discipline against a GTA who was absent from work during the KU Labor Day Student Strike, that such discipline be limited to the facts of the matter in regard to any possible breach of a departmental absence policy.
We trust that our accommodation would satisfy the University on this matter. Please let us know as soon as possible so that our accommodation can be completed in a timely manner.
Legislative & Negotiations Chair
GTAC AFT-Ks Local 6403
Sat 9/5/2020 1:17 PM
From: Thornton, Julie A.
To: Kennedy, Neill Gabrielle; Rose Welch
Cc: Gauding, Patrick John; Rounds, Mike; Leitch, Michael
Subject: GTA communications
Sent Via E-mail
Rose Welch, Business Agent
And Neill Kennedy, President
Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition,
AFT Local 6403, American Federal of Teachers-Kansas
1300 S.W. Topeka Boulevard
Topeka, Kansas 66612-9921
Ms. Welch and Ms. Kennedy,
I have received information that GTAC on Friday emailed GTAs and publicly endorsed a student strike on Labor Day Monday and promised to defend GTAs who refuse to teach that day. GTAC’s email endorses conduct that is illegal and violates our MOA.
First, the promise to defend disciplined GTAs is a legally reckless position to take, because it wrongly suggests a valid defense could be made if a GTA was disciplined for engaging in such an illegal strike. That position is not supported under the law. GTAs who participate in an illegal strike may be discharged from their employment.
GTAC’s implicit endorsement of an illegal sick-out is also a solicitation to your membership to engage in a violation of the MOA. The MOA provides in pertinent part that, “All absences from assigned classes must be submitted in advance for approval by the department (other than for illness or emergency situations, in which case the GTA must provide a written explanation to the supervisor) and arrangements must be made for the class to be covered in accordance with the departmental policies.” Feigning illness to engage in an illegal strike does not comply with this contractual language.
GTAC’s statement also calls on GTAs to refuse to count students as absent if they engage in a strike. That statement also asks your membership to violate the MOA by withholding required work, which also is an illegal work action. Specifically, the MOA provides in pertinent part that, “GTAs shall perform duties in accordance with the instructions of supervisors, departments, and/or schools and in adherence to University and Board of Regents policies.”
Your statements do a disservice to GTAs and to other KU students. We respectfully request that you commit to complying with the law and the MOA and ask that all GTAs teach their classes Monday as scheduled.
Julie A. Thornton
Director of Employee Relations
University of Kansas
Solidarity is a verb.
On Monday, August 31, 2020, KU Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer emailed the entire Jayhawk community with a statement called, “The Need for Certainty and the Need for Understanding“. In this email, Bichelmeyer accuses our entire community of being unreasonably attached to a desire for “certainty” and claims that the faculty and graduate workers at the University of Kansas – who are actively engaging in research to understand the world around us – are simply “not motivated to seek understanding”.
This is not the truth. We do seek understanding and to achieve our understanding, we are listening to expert scientists and scholars in the areas of epidemiology, public health, disability studies, health equity, and accessibility in higher education. Their assessment was that the best choice would be to choose online teaching with built-in accessibility, and this is the foundation of our understanding.
It is true that we sought some certainty from the Chancellor and the Provost, in the sense that we wanted to be certain that decisions about us would be made with us through our system of shared governance. Instead, KU refused to include Faculty, Staff, and Student Senate in their decision making and refused to engage in impact sessions with our union, the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition AFT Local 6403, until we filed labor charges against the University.
We wanted to be certain that we would have the time and ability to create accessible and quality online curriculum driven by a Provost whose area of expertise is exactly that – the pedagogy of online learning. Instead, we have first year GTAs, in some cases only a summer away from their own time as undergraduates, creating coursework on the fly, with no training in pedagogy, classroom management, or even in using the most basic tools to ensure accessibility for our students.
We wanted to be certain that the people responsible for the day-to-day management of our University would take early, proactive, science-informed action to reduce unnecessary harm to our community and to our lives. Instead, we see that Chancellor Girod and Provost Bichelmeyer have chosen to believe that our lives – especially Black and Indigenous lives – are disposable. Even today, they refuse to tell the public how many deaths would trigger a shut-down, or how many of us can be written off as an “acceptable loss” in comparison to a possible loss of tuition dollars (which have turned out to be just as eagerly produced for online courses).
Now Bichelmeyer suggests that those of us at KU who concurred with the well-sourced position of the top experts in their fields are just hampered by anxiety and naively attached to facile certainty. For the Provost of our University to dismiss entirely the scientific and ethical position informed by scholarship is to negate the entire mission of our University. For Provost Bichelmeyer to dismiss fact-based concerns about a global pandemic as a desire for “certainty” is reductive and unacceptable.
Within the past week, Lawrence, Kansas made the list of top ten areas of rising Covid-19 cases in the United States. Three days ago, KU reported that 474 students have tested positive for the coronavirus, putting the overall campus positivity rate at 2.18%. Among our greek life members, there is a 5.17% positivity rate. This exponential increase led Douglas County health officials to intervene and order 10 fraternity and sororities to enter mandatory quarantine.
Meanwhile, Barb Bichelmeyer and Doug Girod are forcing workers and students to interact in-person prior to receiving negative Covid testing results; Watkins Health Clinic is turning away people who have had close and extended contact with those infected with Covid-19; and despite Girod and Bichelmeyer’s endless crowing about mass testing, workers and students have experienced testing errors, lost or delayed results, and this past weekend, an entirely unstaffed KU testing site, where people with testing appointments were met with an empty parking lot.
This is the reality in which we must live and move and – thanks to Girod and Bichelmeyer – interact in-person with our students, campus workers, and the greater Lawrence community, who had no say in the decision to reopen campus.
Rather than addressing this reality, the Provost emailed over 30,000 people to bask in the praise she claims to have received from an anonymous faculty member. This faculty member, she says, is grateful to be teaching in person, and rather than sharing a position based on science and ethics, Barb instead attempts to use this unsourced praise as proof that she made the right decision in choosing to reopen in-person, rather than online. But just like the fraudulent “survey” results, this anecdote is not evidence.
Members of GTAC AFT Local 6403 are appalled that KU administration has chosen time and again to strategically manage their image instead of strategically managing public health and quality education. Rather than providing us with critical information about the campus they forced us onto, they offer only self-serving pontification to justify their ineffective and negligent response to the pandemic. The administration is not responding to a threat to public health and safety – they are a threat to public health and safety.
Although we are responding to a specific email, this is not merely a distasteful misstep by our University. This is an issue of life or death. Mass emails are one of the very few places GTAs receive critical knowledge about KU’s response to the pandemic. When our administrators send public relations positions rather than meaningful information, they increase our mistrust of this administration and their messages. It is not enough to simply block out, ignore, or dismiss these messages. Because they hold so much power, we rely on them for communication that directly influences our daily lives. In times of crisis, communications from our administrators should be used to help us understand the ongoing risks from the pandemic and the university responses to help mitigate that risk. Correspondence about Covid-19 should be strictly limited to essential information about policy changes, infection rates, and other risk mitigation solutions.
Looking back on the past week, we do not see “Jayhawks Rising.” We see Covid-19 levels rising because Barb Bichelmeyer and Doug Girod have chosen to risk the lives of the students and workers they’re paid to serve.
For these reasons, our undergraduate students will be engaging in a Labor Day student strike as well as circulating a petition to demand that KU administration – or at the very least, county and state health officials – close this campus.
GTAC stands in solidarity with student demands, which includes free testing, housing provisions, hazard pay, and quarantining procedures. For months, KU administration has relentlessly touted an “overwhelming” student desire to be on campus, and yet here we see an organized undergraduate response demanding the opposite.
GTAC is especially moved by their call to abandon harmful individualism and “sacrifice our individual interests for the greater good of the community by demanding that campus closes.” This is not just about KU, but also about the larger Lawrence community, who did not consent to host needless Covid-19 risks. While there has been documented abhorrent behavior by some undergraduate students, GTAC refuses to blame any undergraduate for the spread of Covid-19 in our community – these students were brought here with false promises of safety and normalcy from KU administrators. Now is the time for Barb Bichelmeyer and Doug Girod to follow our undergraduates’ leadership by closing our campus.
GTAC workers will be supporting our undergraduate students by signing and circulating their petition and by refusing to reprimand and/or count as absent those students who are now shouldering the burden entrusted to Doug and Barb. Please reach out to your students with your course policy regarding this student strike. In addition, while GTAC cannot legally advise GTAs to withhold labor in a concerted action, we do want to reassure any GTAs who choose to take part in this action that we will fully represent and defend them against any retaliatory discipline they may experience afterwards.
Solidarity is a verb. Human lives are not disposable.
Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition
AFT Local 6403
GTAs are not disposable.
Right now, our solidarity matters more than ever – click here to become a dues paying member of GTAC.