On Oct. 19, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board announced that 1,511 faculty from across the University system voted in favor of unionization, which was 71% of the faculty eligible to vote in the election. 612 faculty opposed the measure.
The union could include up to 3,355 faculty. All full- and part-time faculty from both within and outside of the tenure stream except the School of Medicine are eligible to join the bargaining unit, making the union the biggest to be formed in the U.S. in a decade. Dr. Beverly Gaddy, associate professor of political science and president of Pitt’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said she hopes the election results send a message to the University.
“Hopefully a lesson that the administration has taken from this is don’t waste tuition money, $2 million worth, on [union-busting] legal counsel,” Dr. Gaddy said. “I don’t feel like they got their money’s worth out of that. … Think what that $2 million could have done for student scholarships or something.”
She hopes her students learned from faculty’s unionization efforts as well.
“One thing that people need to think about is that your employment is not just an individual thing,” Dr. Gaddy said. “It’s not just you doing your job on your own. It’s a community. … You’re part of a community, and [you] need to care for other members of the community, even if you’re not in the office together.”
Dr. Russ Phillips, associate professor of psychology, became curious about a faculty union a few years ago after one of his classes was cancelled by the administration. He tried to appeal the decision, but the University denied it. After learning about the issues part-time and non-tenured faculty face as well, he became involved with unionization efforts at Pitt.
“I realized that faculty governance is just one issue,” Dr. Phillips said. “I look at my colleagues and, boy, I’m shocked. They work as hard as I do, people that are visiting instructors or instructors or part-time faculty, and they’re paid half of what I am. … I just heard from a faculty [member] the other day who’s got a PhD from a really good institution, and he’s making like $35,000 a year.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the average high school teacher earned a salary of $99,707 during the 2017 academic year. Most high school teachers only have a Bachelor’s degree.
Dr. Phillips said he believes the union will help faculty, especially part-time faculty, earn fairer salaries and make the compensation process more transparent.
“Last year, there was a pay freeze, and this year, there was a 1% to 2% increase. And really, [raises] are always kind of unclear,” Dr. Phillips said. “What really strikes me as strange is you don’t know what your pay is going to be until you’ve already started working for the given year. Midway through September, I get a letter that says ‘congratulations, you received a 1% raise’ or ‘this year we couldn’t do a raise.’ Other places I’ve worked, I get a letter halfway through the summer or even the spring prior.”
Like Dr. Gaddy, Dr. Phillips feels that his workplace is a community, and he thinks the United Steelworkers (USW) have already helped foster a better community on campus in the time that they’ve been organizing.
“[USW] were very good at listening and building community. That was another thing I’ve been really struck by here is the lack of sense of community,” he said. “I think at Greensburg, the faculty just seem to go home [at the end of the day], and they don’t seem to interact. At other places that I’ve worked, we have Christmas parties together and family potlucks. … There’s kind of a lack of community and a lack of morale. … USW tried to build some sense of community to those who were open to it.”
Dr. Gaddy believes one of the most important parts of being an employee is protecting others in your workplace and standing up for what’s right. She said the union will finally give faculty the opportunity to do so.
“If even one worker can be mistreated by an employer, they can mistreat others,” Dr. Gaddy said. “It actually reminded me of the Me Too movement. For decades, women had to suck it up. If you spoke out, you were fired. No woman could step out of line and say something … and that’s the way it is with workers. … You spend hours of your day in your work environment, and you need to make it a place where everybody is appreciated and valued for what they do. I think unions help to send that message.”