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KU faculty, academic staff announce unionization effort

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Post updated at 10:25 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15:

Faculty and staff members at the University of Kansas have formed a union that will represent more than 1,500 of their colleagues at both the Lawrence and Edwards campuses, organizing group American Federation of Teachers announced in a press release Monday.

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Called the United Academics of the University of Kansas, the union would represent full-time and part-time tenured and non-tenured faculty — as well as teaching, research, clinical and online professors, lecturers, curators, librarians, scientists who conduct grant-funded research and other categories of faculty and academic staff, according to the release.

The union, which would be the fourth university faculty union in the state of Kansas, would be affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, the release said.

Lisa-Marie Wright, an associate teaching professor in the Department of Sociology, said KU’s status of high rankings for its academics and research is at risk.

“Faculty and academic staff need a voice in decisions, especially when the student experience is at stake,” Wright said in the press release.

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, a spokesperson for KU, said via email Monday evening that “University of Kansas leaders look forward to continued conversations with faculty and instructors about ways to move the university forward.”

Several issues prompted the unionization effort, the release said, including KU’s “recent attempt to suspend tenure and its over-reliance on short-term contracts for many teaching faculty” as well as not having a voice in “major decisions about academic programs” and “stagnant wages” that aren’t competitive with other flagship universities.

“A union will help us retain outstanding teachers and researchers that provide the quality of education our students deserve,” said Berl Oakley, a distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences.

UAKU said it has been inspired by recent faculty organizing efforts on campuses nationwide, including at Miami University of Ohio, the University of New Mexico, the University of Oregon and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The union will be collecting authorization cards over the coming months, which signify that the employee wants to be represented by the union, and then a secret-ballot election will be held to officially certify the union — with a simple majority required. Once a union has been certified or recognized, the employer is required to bargain over terms and conditions of employment with a union representative.

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Conner Mitchell (he/him), reporter, can be reached at cmitchell (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-435-9264. If you have sensitive information to send Conner, please email connermitchell (at) protonmail (dot) com. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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