KU students plan Labor Day strike due to rising COVID-19 cases

KU campus
Posted at 9:10 PM, Sep 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-06 22:10:27-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Students at the University of Kansas plan to strike Monday, demanding that the Lawrence campus close due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The Jayhawker Liberation Front, a KU student organization, posted a notice on Twitter Thursday, stating that when KU closed its campus earlier this year there were no COVID-19 cases. The university has now reported more than 500 cases.

“Were enough students (and potentially staff and faculty) to participate, it would send a firm message to administration that our lives are not their expendable playthings,” JLF said in the statement, “that we are not simply an avenue through which they make money.”

JLF started a petition urging the university to close the campus, along with the following demands:

  • Exit testing at no cost to students.
  • Provide students housing.
  • Students who live in university housing and test negative for COVID-19 should be sent home, while those who test positive should quarantine in student housing.
  • Students who test negative for the virus but need housing should be allowed to reside on campus.
  • Pay KU laborers “an average of their recent wages,” including hazard pay.
  • Implement credit/no credit for students.

The Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition on Friday issued a statement “in solidarity with student demands.”

“For months, KU administration has relentlessly touted an ‘overwhelming’ student desire to be on campus,” the GTAC said, “and yet here we see an organized undergraduate response demanding the opposite.”

GTAC also stated that it would “fully represent and defend” any graduate teaching assistants who choose to participate in the strike.

Julie Thornton, KU’s director of employee relations, said in a letter to the GTAC that the organization’s promise to defend teaching assistants “is a legally reckless position to take.”

“It wrongly suggests a valid defense could be made if a GTA was disciplined for engaging in such an illegal strike,” Thornton wrote. “That position is not supported under the law. GTAs who participate in an illegal strike may be discharged from their employment.”

She also said that GTAC’s endorsement of “an illegal sick-out” violates a memorandum of agreement.

“That statement also asks your membership to violate the MOA by withholding required work, which also is an illegal work action… Your statements do a disservice to GTAs and to other KU students,” Thornton wrote.

KU conducted “mass-entry testing” ahead of the fall semester and Chancellor Doug Girod said in a statement on Wednesday, Sept. 2, that the student population saw a positivity rate of 6.03% for the week Aug. 23-29, compared to 2.64% for the previous week.

“We’ve reached the point now where many of our initial positive cases have completed isolation requirements and have been cleared to return to campus,” Girod said. “We know of no cases associated with our entry testing efforts where individuals have required care beyond their physician’s office, including no known hospitalizations.”

Positive COVID-19 cases have been, according to Girod, “in line with what we’ve expected and are prepared to manage.”