By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — The labor union representing some employees at Kansas State University wants to bite the hand that pays them.
In a move that surprised some, the public-employee union at Kansas State University, the Kansas State University Employees Association, has come out against shifting control of some hourly paid employees to the local level. Instead, the union has aligned with the notably anti-union state Legislature.
Bill Glover, president of the union which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, said the reason is simple — control. The union says it easily can replace lawmakers, but can’t replace officials at the university.
“We can fire them (elected officials), but it’s pretty impossible to fire somebody at K-State that’s not doing something we agree with,” Glover said. “We can always get groups together to get rid of Gov. (Sam) Brownback if he’s not going to give the dignity and respect that state employees deserve.”
KSU’s 1,600 mostly hourly employees are being asked to join university support staff. If that happens, decisions on pay and other employment matters will be decided by KSU administrators. At present, the hourly employees, some of whom are members of the employee association labor union, are part of the state’s civil service unit and fall under the auspices of the Kansas Legislature.
Lawmaker negotiate with the union on issues involving pay, working conditions and more.
“Most people do not trust the (university) administration,” Glover said. “We have seen the actions down here for years and years.”
Gary Leitnaker, KSU human resources assistant vice president, said state statute protects employees from being laid off or having pay decreased if the change is made.
The employees will vote on the issue in November.
KSU employee Carol Marden, who leads a committee examining the potential change, told the Topeka Capitol-Journal that employees would do well to extricate themselves from the grip of state lawmakers. Marden said she puts more stock in local, university administrators than in a far-removed Legislature.
“It’s basically, who do you have more trust in, our local administration or a further removed administration?” said Marden told the Capitol-Journal. “My trust lays here at Kansas State.”
Marden did not return requests for comment from Kansas Watchdog.
But Glover doesn’t share the same affinity for university administrators. Glover said he was skeptical the university would handle issues fairly. The animosity came as a shock to Leitnaker, who said he has always maintained an open-door policy with Glover.
“I kind of am surprised that they are opposed to it, because I don’t think we’ve had a bad relationship with them,” Leitnaker said.
Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a Wichita-based think tank, said the matter of local versus legislative control should be based on individual freedom and liberty in the workplace.
“It makes perfect sense (to shift control),” Trabert said. “That’s one of the great benefits of freedom, especially in a right-to-work state. People should have the freedom to be treated as individuals, not compelled to be part of a group because of the majority.”
In the end, though, Glover said it could be politically advantageous for employees to remain under the scope of elected lawmakers.
The Legislature is “anti-union, we can’t disagree with that, but we also understand right now Gov. Brownback’s approval rating is down to 30 percent,” Glover said.
“We think there’s a possibility that somebody will come forward to challenge him for the governorship, somebody who’s going to really care about Kansas instead of the Koch brothers,” he said.
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