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Happy Hour Battle Cry: Unionization at Pitt-Greensburg

by Chelle Jackson

A faceoff is appearing at the University of Pittsburgh. While most students remain unaware of the matter, the faculty and administration fight a battle for wages, health insurance, and work-conditions.

A union through the United Steelworkers (USW) is working its way to a vote by the Pitt faculty.

Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, USW hosted a happy hour at The Headkeeper bar in Greensburg for faculty to learn more about the vote.

Dr. Russell Phillips III, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology, attended this happy hour.

A tenured professor, Dr. Phillips felt comfortable expressing his opinion.

“I see some issues with morale here. Too many decisions made top-down.”

Other professors were not as comfortable. Although those who attended expressed support for the union, they were unwilling to step forward as such, concerned for their jobs.

“Some people wanted to be here, but they’re non-tenured,” Dr. Phillips said.

These faculty seem to be hoping to gain security through a union.

A long list of problems were discussed, including the lack of funds, particularly in finding replacements for full-time faculty.

“Fourteen faculty down, a lot of classes don’t get offered.” Dr. Phillips said.

The full-time professors expressed concern for an increase in their responsibilities, but no increase in compensation.

Health insurance also seemed to be a problem.

“Every year Pitt goes out to bid on our health insurance, but surprisingly UPMC wins every year,” said Dr. Paul Adams, PhD, Associate Professor of Political Science. “So our insurance premiums go up, but we are never given full access into how does that take place. Are they giving the others a shot? The answer is probably no, but we don’t even know.”

What seems to be the biggest frustration, however, is the lack of communication on the part of the administration.

“Shared governments and transparency, it’s a long-standing issue between faculty and the administration,” said Dr. Phillips.

There is some concern that the administration will respond poorly.

“There may be negative implications from it but we hope there’s not.” Dr. Adams said when asked if they were concerned with how the administration may react if the union vote goes through.

“They put under retainer a Philadelphia-based firm whose primary job is to fight unionization.” Dr. Adams said.

Both Dr. Phillips and Dr. Adams mentioned a stock email they had received from the administration. Dr. Phillips paraphrased, “there’s some faculty that are concerned that these USW representatives coming to your office and bothering you. If they are, you have a right to tell them to leave, but they have a right to be on the campus.”

The email was sent out on multiple Pitt campuses.

“It was fear mongering.” Dr. Adams said in response.

The union workers were in attendance in order to explain their role to faculty who were not fully informed.

“Our goal is to support the faculty,” said Chris Wike, Organizer with USW Academic Workers Association.

It has also been noted that while Pitt promotes the concept of equal pay, women still make less than their male counterparts.

“We’re forming a women’s committee, said Wike, addressing the gender pay gap at Pitt. “We feel that there should be equal pay for equal work. The race or sex or gender of a faculty person should not affect the value of their work.”

There are many issues that the union intends to address for the faculty. One of the biggest issues is a lack of full-time professors.

“Adjuncts, they come to class and they go. So they don’t do advising; they don’t sit on committees for other issues. We sit on so many committees to keep the place running. We choose scholarships, hiring, new programs, instructional technology and libraries,” said Dr. Phillips.

Members of the faculty are clearly concerned and hopeful that the union can help to relieve some of these concerns.

Dr. Adams said, “It’s about teaching the students. It’s about the caliber and the quality of the education, which is absolutely only found in faculty.”

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