Last month, Pitt’s Faculty Organizing Committee filed with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to hold a faculty union election.
This filing comes after pro-union organizers gathered over 3,500 confidential, signed union cards since last January. Faculty organizers only had one year to obtain signatures from at least 30 percent of professors to petition for a vote.
Dr. Beverly Gaddy, Associate Professor of Political Science, is the President of the Pitt Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and has always been an advocate for faculty unionization.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding [about unionization],” Dr. Gaddy said. Dr. Gaddy believes many think unionization is only about salary issues.
“It’s not just salary issues, it has to do much more with control over your area of work,” Dr. Gaddy said. “Without a contract, if you have an issue (maybe it’s a pay issue, maybe it’s a scheduling issue), it’s just you against the administration. A faculty member’s going to lose almost every time with that.”
Forming a faculty union would help professors, both part-time and full-time, have more control over their classes and their area of work.
Dr. Paul Adams, Associate Professor of Political Science, believes unionization isn’t only good for faculty, but students as well.
“Students may sometimes notice a little irregularity about when courses are offered and who teaches them,” Dr. Adams said. “Some of our part-time faculty come and go, even some of our full-time faculty come and go.”
These issues can affect students’ schedules, class sizes, and even the courses they’re offered each semester.
“This happens at all of our campuses, and part of that is a certain lack of job security,” Dr. Adams said. “By not paying our part-time, non-tenure stream faculty very well, it sometimes becomes difficult to get and keep those faculty. And, we see more turnover, and that directly impacts educational outcomes.”
Dr. Gaddy agrees unionizing will increase students’ quality of education.
“If you look at schools that are unionized, they’re very good schools, and they’re very good for a reason. It attracts better faculty,” Dr. Gaddy said. “But also, it gives faculty a little more control over their area. It generally results in better quality education for students; it’s a better experience. They have happier professors.”
Pitt-Greensburg’s United Steelworkers (USW) organizer, Chris Wike, has been working with Pitt-Greensburg faculty members to assist in forming a union since May 2017. Wike is concerned over how the administration has been spending students’ tuition dollars.
“Pitt’s administration may claim that the presence of a union will make tuition go up; however, right now, as little as 29% of Pitt’s budget is spent on education, and the university is bringing in more money than ever (not to mention its $4 billion plus endowment),” Wike said. “Pitt’s administration hasn’t been raising tuition due to increases in educational expenses.”
Dr. Adams is also concerned with this issue.
“The university is already under contract with a law firm out of Philadelphia whose main goal is blocking unionization efforts,” Dr. Adams said. “One of the interesting things to think about is that the University of Pittsburgh is spending some of the money they get every year blocking this effort. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands probably. These law firms are not cheap.”
Wike said many union-busting consultants can make “$700+ an hour.”
“The Union of Pitt Faculty will fight to make sure that the administration prioritizes education and research using its existing revenue, rather than constantly hiking tuition,” Wike said. Undergraduate and community supporters in Pittsburgh have formed a coalition organization, Community and Students for Academic Workers (CSAW), who are collecting neutrality letters asking that the administration remain neutral throughout the unionization process. Pitt-Greensburg students who are interested in signing neutrality letters can contact CSAW at PittCSAW@gmail.com.