Pitt faculty members vote in favor of unionization | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pitt faculty members vote in favor of unionization

click to enlarge University of Pittsburgh campus - CP PHOTO: AMANDA WALTZ
CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
University of Pittsburgh campus
After years of organizing efforts, faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh have voted overwhelmingly in favor of unionizing.

On Tue., Oct. 19, The Pitt News reported that, out of the 2,203 faculty members who voted in the election, 1,511 voted to become members of the United Steelworkers union. A total of 612 voted against it.

The story also points out that 80 challenged ballots remain, which is not enough to affect the outcome of the election.

A press release from the USW adds to this, saying the preliminary results of the election showed that "more than 71% of the workers who voted cast votes to join the union."

“We are grateful for the hard work of our colleagues, the guidance of the United Steelworkers, and the support of students, staff, elected officials, and other allies in the community,” reads a tweet posted today on the Pitt Faculty Union Twitter account.
As a result, 3,300 workers at Pitt will become part of the 850,000-member USW, one of the largest labor unions in North America, which has its headquarters in Downtown Pittsburgh.

“This vote was successful because these workers know that this decision will make the university a better place for the entire community,” says USW international president Tom Conway. “When academic workers have a seat at the table, it results in a better environment for teachers, for students, and for everyone who calls Pitt home.”

Tyler Bickford, an associate professor in Pitt's English department, says the voting will result in "greater security for workers, better educational outcomes for students, and increased transparency across the university.”

The decision marks a major victory in a battle waged by Pitt professors, researchers, as well as graduate students, dating back to 2016.

Unlike faculty, however, Pitt graduate students were not included in this election, as they are part of a separate campaign also organized by USW. As pointed out in a 2019 Pittsburgh City Paper story, the committee’s motivation to unionize was spurred by the demand for “higher wages, more academic freedom, and other needs.” The graduate students believed their paid teaching and research duties qualified them as employees, granting them the right to unionize.

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board scheduled the faculty election to take place from Aug. 27 through Oct. 12. The board held a mail-in ballot election over the past several weeks for faculty members, following what a press release calls "more than two years of delays as a result of legal challenges from the administration."

The vote appears especially triumphant for Pitt organizers who alleged that they endured “years of relentless anti-union efforts by the Pitt administration aimed at preventing such a vote from taking place.” A PLRB hearing examiner ruled last summer that the Pitt administration “artificially inflated a list of its faculty employees in order to impede the faculty’s unionization campaign,” according to a USW press release.

In April 2021, the examiner issued a follow-up decision on which faculty members would be included in the USW bargaining unit, bringing the total to about 3,000 faculty members.

In February 2021, USW released a statement calling on Pitt’s administration to “end its anti-union campaign” against grad students and faculty. At the time, reports showed that the school had spent millions on attorneys from Ballard Spahr, a Philadelphia-based law firm known for union-busting.

USW claims financial records show that, since 2016, Pitt has paid more than $2.1 million to Ballard Spahr for its help in an "ongoing campaign to stop faculty members’ unionization efforts, as well as to prevent a concurrent effort by Pitt graduate student workers to join the USW."

The USW is a national organization that represents 850,000 workers employed in a variety of trade industries. Recently, the group has welcomed workers from white-collar fields, including in health care, higher education, tech, and service occupations. Besides Pitt employees, the USW has also helped facilitate unionization efforts by local librarians, Google contract workers, and nonprofit professionals.

Adjunct instructors at Point Park University and Robert Morris University also are members of the USW.

A press release says that Pitt faculty members are "looking forward to bargaining their first union contract with the school’s administration following the faculty’s successful vote" to become members of the USW.

“This result has been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait,” says Bickford. “It’s a good feeling to know that we as faculty members have finally achieved what all workers deserve — a voice in the decision-making process that affects our lives on the job.”

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