Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) at the University of Kansas voted to unionize early this week by a 70 percent margin.
"This is much bigger than one campus," said David A. Reidy, a GTA in Kansas' philosophy department and a member of the Union Steering Committee.
"The face of higher education has changed over the past decade," Reidy said. "There has been increased reliance on graduate students to support University core curriculums. Now teaching assistants are standing up and demanding that their voices be heard."
Kansas new GTA union, to be formally organized next fall, will be affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, according to Christina Sharp, a GTA in the philosophy department and member of the union steering committee. Union dues, which are optional, are expected to be eight dollars per month for each teaching assistant.
As the result of a court ruling in the fall of 1994 which said that the Kansas GTAs were state employees and not students on financial aid, the GTAs were given the right to unionize, Reidy said.
The University is legally bound to deal with the union in good faith, Reidy added.
But the University of Kansas administration has issued a press release condemning the unionization on the grounds that it endangers "collegiality" and "individualism."
The University also stated that, regardless of unionization, a shrinking state budget will prevent additional benefits for GTAs.
University of Kansas Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs David E. Shulenburger said the unionization would not help the GTAs in the longrun, and may actually hurt their overall benefit package.
"We're convinced that in this state the legislature will not be so very kind to a GTA union. In fact, several legislators were quoted in reaction to [the vote] who are not interested in treating the GTAs any better," Shulenburger said. "We'd love to have health care for the GTAs and we hope their formally organizing won't have done their cause harm."
But according to union GTAs and some faculty members, the GTAs have enjoyed widespread faculty support in their efforts to unionize over the past few years.
"I have supported the GTAs from the beginning because most of us feel that they are being exploited," said Professor A.C. Genova, chair of the University of Kansas philosophy department.
"They have no health insurance, no benefits; they have no role in determining budgetary decisions or their working conditions," Genova added. "For years and years they were simply getting nowhere in terms of getting the University to address theirconcerns or even talk with them."
Hailing the Kansas GTAs decision to unionize asa sign of hope, Yale teaching assistants, who arealso attempting to unionize, have issued a pressrelease calling the Kansas Union a "Model forYale."
"The most important model for Yale is that thiswas settled by democratic means and not who canoutlast who in a protracted strike," said GordonC. Lafer, a Yale graduate student and unionactivist.
But Yale teaching assistants realize that asmembers of a private institution their situationis vastly different from that of the Kansas GTAs.
"The main difference is that Kansas is a publicinstitution and is bound by state laws as opposedto Yale which is private and answerable to noone," said Eve S. Weinbaum, a Yale graduatestudent and union activist.
Harvard union leaders interviewed yesterdaysaid there is no widespread dissatisfaction orcollective activity among Harvard teachingfellows.
"In the 10 or 11 years I've done union work inthe community, I've never seen or heard anyinterest in TF unionization," said Bill Jaeger,director of the Harvard Union of Clerical andTechnical Workers