Why unionize now?
In many facets of our lives, the last several years have made apparent the importance of maintaining spaces of connection and cooperation. Here at KU, we have been reminded of the value of shared governance and the need for effective communication and leadership. Our recent hard times have allowed us to pinpoint where structure and support is needed for us to do our work.
We are attuned to and inspired by similar movements at universities across the country, where we have watched our colleagues come together to advocate for one another and for their institutions.
People elsewhere are prone to misunderstand and underestimate us here in the center of the US. The moment offers us an opportunity to lead, to further demonstrate the power and potential of speaking with a united voice. We can, on our own terms, be Jayhawks Rising.
What happens next?
Now that a growing majority of us have shown and are showing support for our union by signing on to our Statement of Purpose, our next step is to sign physical cards for union authorization and membership.
You can read more about the legal process for union recognition and find out how to sign your card.
Who does our union include?
To fully answer that question, a bargaining unit will need to be determined according to the process defined in Kansas state labor law. See Legal Process for Union Recognition.
That said, we believe an appropriate bargaining unit would include all faculty and academic staff, including those at both Lawrence and Edwards campuses, of every rank and job title and regardless of full-time or part-time status. This would include people holding job titles such as scientist, curator, specialist, research professor, clinical professor, librarian, professor, lecturer, online lecturer, multi-term lecturer, professor of the practice, and teaching professor, as well as other ranks or variations on those titles. Those who additionally hold a position as a chairperson or program director should also be included as long as they do not exercise meaningful supervisory or managerial authority.
Those who hold higher administrative positions, such as Assistant or Associate Deans, would not be included.
What does it mean to become a member?
Once we successfully achieve union recognition and negotiate a first contract, everyone in the bargaining unit will be covered by and benefit from that contract. However, only those who become union members — by signing a membership card, and later, paying membership dues — will have a say in this important process.
Higher education union dues in the United States are typically between 1% and 2% of one’s salary. The exact amount of our union’s dues will be determined through a vote of the membership, and collection of dues will not begin until after we successfully bargain and ratify our first contract. Read more about membership dues and our affiliated unions here.
We encourage all faculty and academic staff to participate in building our union by signing a union authorization and membership card.
What are our legal rights to form a union?
Under the Kansas Public Employer-Employee Relations Act, we have the legal right to form, join, and participate in our union, free from retaliation or interference by any supervisor or administrator. It is illegal for the KU administration to discriminate against any employee because of your support for UAKU.
Are faculty at other Kansas institutions of higher education unionized?
Yes! In Kansas, there are long standing faculty unions at Pittsburg State University, Fort Hays State University, and Johnson County Community College.
What does a union do that a faculty senate doesn’t?
A union has the right to bargain with the administration over compensation, benefits, and working conditions, and has the power to ensure that agreements on those matters are respected. In contrast, the University and Faculty Senate are advisory bodies whose advice on issues such as compensation and working conditions can be easily disregarded. These bodies will continue to be responsible for curriculum, academic standards, program review, and many other topics. A strong, collaborative relationship between our union and university governance bodies will be of paramount importance, and we look forward to working closely together.
Once a union is formed, how are union representatives and leaders selected?
Unions are democratic organizations that depend on their members’ involvement. After we negotiate and ratify our first contract with KU, we as union members will write our constitution and by-laws, including how we want to elect our leaders and representatives through a democratic process.
What can a union do to address issues I care about?
Academic unions across the nation negotiate collective bargaining agreements that address a wide range of issues. As we build our union at KU, we will look closely at what our colleagues at other universities have achieved as models for what we can win here. The following are just a few examples of enforceable solutions that faculty and academic staff have incorporated into their contracts at other universities:
Job Security for All
The recent firings of faculty at Emporia State University were made possible when the Kansas Board of Regents authorized more streamlined terminations in 2021. Faculty at the unionized campuses in the Kansas Regents system were protected from this new policy, however, by their union contracts. We hope to achieve the same thing here.
Union contracts protect those in non-tenure-track faculty positions as well as in tenure-track positions. They may include, for example, requiring payments in the event a course is canceled, minimum advance notice of appointments, clear paths for renewal and promotion, and continued library and email access between semesters.
Some even establish a system of multi-year contracts with career ladders. An example is the University of California where lecturers who complete 1-year appointments are eligible for 2-year appointments, followed by 3-year appointments, with meaningful performance reviews and pay increases at each step.
Bargaining for an overarching tenure and promotion framework is also common. While academic units usually create policies for their disciplines, the union contract can assure transparency with respect to the expectations required to achieve tenure and promotion. Unions also bargain for processes to appeal tenure or promotion decisions, and to support appeal systems that already exist. For example, at California State University, the faculty contract clearly delineates the tenure process, including the ability to appeal the denial of tenure through grievance and arbitration.
By negotiating for standards such as these, we can ensure that what is important to us is shielded from unilateral change by the administration, while we work collaboratively to improve in those areas that currently fall short.
Pay and Benefits
This is fundamental. Many union contracts establish salary minimums, regular cost-of-living adjustments, and funding mechanisms to forestall salary compression, reward merit, and redress salary inequities.
Improved family leave policies are also common. At Rutgers, for example, the contract provides eight weeks of paid release time for parents — regardless of gender — for either newborn or adopted children, and six further weeks of paid recuperation leave for birth mothers. Other support policies are possible as well, including on-campus services.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
A clear union contract improves recruitment and retention because policies that apply evenly to everyone make for a more equitable and better-paid faculty. Unions can also provide direct support to address inequities. For example, the Rutgers union won a salary equity program that addresses inequities based on gender, race, and other protected categories.
Faculty contracts often affirm principles of academic freedom, including procedures that protect academic freedom rights. This is true at the University of Oregon, Portland State University, Emerson College, and many other institutions.
Shared governance is intended to ensure meaningful faculty participation in university planning and administration. Unions facilitate this goal by bargaining for protections to contractually enforce governance-sharing by faculty senates and similar bodies. At the University of Oregon, for example, the union contract includes language that allows “duly adopted” policies — such as those approved by Faculty Senate or by departments and units — to be enforced through the union’s grievance procedure. The faculty union at the University of Florida has successfully negotiated similar rights.
Serving our students and the educational mission of the university is a high priority. Collective bargaining gives us the opportunity to participate actively in planning and dialogue about the preservation and enhancement of our disciplines, units, and curricula.
- Why unionize now?
- What happens next?
- Who does our union include?
- What does it mean to become a member?
- What are our legal rights to form a union?
- Are faculty at other Kansas institutions of higher education unionized?
- What does a union do that a faculty senate doesn’t?
- Once a union is formed, how are union representatives and leaders selected?
- What can a union do to address issues I care about?