Campaign to organize thousands of faculty, grad workers at Pitt underway
January 26, 2016 12:48 PM
An effort is underway to unionize faculty and graduate workers at the University of Pittsburgh. The campaign is coordinated by the United Steelworkers.
By Bill Schackner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A campaign to organize 5,000 faculty and almost 3,000 graduate employees at the University of Pittsburgh is now officially underway, its kick-off occurring at an Oakland news conference today just off the sprawling state-related university.
The United Steelworkers is coordinating efforts with two campus groups hoping to form two separate bargaining units within the Steelworkers, one for adjuncts and tenure-stream faculty at Pitt and the other for graduate workers there.
In the Pittsburgh region, the USW so far has organized adjuncts at Point Park University and Robert Morris University, as well as Duquesne University, though that school continues to challenge the union, citing the Catholic university's religious mission.
The drive at Pitt will include both the main Oakland campus and the university's branch campuses at Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville.
Speakers at the news conference, including some individuals hoping to join the bargaining units, cited issues including fairness, job security, transparency and workplace justice as key themes of the effort.
“We deserve to be recognized for our indispensable roles,” said Hillary Lazar,37, a graduate student employee and a teaching fellow in sociology. “The University continues to profit off our labor.”
Past classroom organizing efforts at Pitt over the years have failed. But Peter Campbell, 31, an assistant professor of English, said he believes the prevailing sentiment will be different this time owed to both the further corporatization of universities generally and the USW’s organizing resources.
A card campaign will eventually be launched although a timetable has not been set, said Maria Somma, director of organizing for the USW.
Signed cards expressing support for the union must be returned by at least 30 percent of the potential bargaining unit in order for the USW to seek an election through the Pennsylvania labor board, she said. However unions typically do not file such a petition until they have achieved more than 50 percent support and Ms. Somma said this campaign would want to have a clear majority of support.
After the news conference, Pitt spokesman Ken Service offered the following university response:
“The university has made great strides over the past decades, thanks in large measure to the ability of an independent and engaged faculty to work together with their administrative colleagues through a strong system of shared governance,” it read.
“We remain confident that the best way to continue to advance our mission is for the entire university community to continue to work together in this cooperative and respectful manner.”
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @ BschacknerPG.
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