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October 29, 2015

Faculty unionization drive underway

After nearly two decades, a new attempt to unionize Pitt faculty is underway.

English faculty member Robin Clarke revealed last week that a Pitt faculty organizing committee is working in conjunction with the United Steelworkers union to organize full- and part-time faculty on all Pitt campuses.

Since the start of the fall term, organizers have spoken with several hundred Pitt faculty members to gauge their needs and hear their concerns, said United Steelworkers Academic Workers Association staffer Haywood Carey. “We’re trying to figure out what works for them and what needs improving,” he said. “Faculty understand best how the University works and how it should work.”

The most recent attempt to unionize Pitt faculty was suspended in 1996 after United Faculty organizers failed to collect union authorization cards from a majority of Pitt faculty. (See April 25, 1996, University Times.) Other faculty unionization efforts here failed in 1991 and 1976.

Carey said the current effort remains exploratory in nature with no set timetable for soliciting union authorization cards that would precede a petition to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) for an election.

“We’re not ready to have people sign cards. This campaign will take as long as it needs,” he said, adding that the plan is up to the faculty.

He would not elaborate on the size of the faculty organizing committee, saying only that on any given day, about a dozen members are speaking with other faculty members here. “They’re out actively seeking information, guidance, suggestions — just listening to faculty.”

That will continue “until we think it’s the right time to file,” he said. While PLRB would require a minimum of 30 percent of the faculty to file authorization cards, Carey said the committee would not move forward without support from “an overwhelming majority.” Pitt employs 5,271 full- and part-time faculty members, according to the 2015 Pitt Fact Book.

Ken Service, Pitt’s vice chancellor for communications, had no comment on the organizing activities. “The administration has not been approached by anybody in any official capacity about faculty unionization,” he told the University Times.

Organizers have not publicly sought support from the University Senate, which advises the administration on matters of University-wide concern.


Clarke’s announcement, originally intended to coincide with the Oct. 26-30 Campus Equity Week, came instead on Oct. 22 as Clarke accepted one of the University’s 2015 Iris Marion Young Awards for Political Engagement.

“I knew we’d be in a room with a lot of activists and people who’d be especially interested in making a union happen,” Clarke explained. “It seemed so right to share that piece of it that all of us have been working for, for so long.” She said her selection for the award was based in large part on her advocacy efforts for non-tenure-stream faculty as a member of the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers, which works to organize unions for academic workers in Pittsburgh. Clarke also is the non-tenure-stream representative to the University of Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (Pitt AAUP).

The United Steelworkers has been active in organizing other Pittsburgh faculty groups, including part-time faculty at Point Park, Robert Morris and Duquesne universities. Efforts also are underway at Chatham University.

In addition, adjunct faculty at Community College of Allegheny County in July voted to join the American Federation of Teachers, which represents CCAC full-time faculty. Also in July, Point Park University ended its opposition to its full-time faculty members’ 2004 vote to be represented by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh/Communications Workers of America.

Clarke said she has seen a “real wave of energy” surrounding faculty concerns in Pittsburgh and nationally, “not just because of people involved in the campaign at Pitt. I think we have brought a lot of attention to it in the city.” Although the issues aren’t new, “It’s made it necessary for the administration to take it seriously,” she said.

“It’s a kind of movement, and the University is responding to that,” she said, noting, for example, that lecturers in her area have received raises, longer contracts and other benefits recently. “When one school makes a change, it affects other schools,” she said. “In a sense, the union’s already working, in that regard.”

Still, she desires a union to secure those benefits for the future “and create a situation where faculty have more long-term security: being able to bargain a contract and have things in writing.”

Clarke said, “We know that a union can provide a structure.” Exactly what faculty might choose to bargain for remains to be seen.

“We need broad input,” she said. “We wouldn’t want a few departments to speak for all.”

She said the organizing committee is seeking to expand. Interested faculty can contact members individually or connect via email at A website is being created; it was not yet live as of the University Times press time.


The Steelworkers’ Carey noted that while organizing at nearby schools has focused mostly on contingent faculty, the effort at Pitt aims to organize full- and part-time faculty together. “The organizing committee decided not to be pitted against each other,” he said.

Organizing committee member Beverly Gaddy, a Pitt-Greensburg faculty member and Pitt AAUP chapter president, said faculty, staff and students alike are expressing concerns for equitable treatment of non-tenure-stream and part-time faculty, whose numbers have swelled since the last faculty unionization effort at Pitt.

“Those of us who are tenured are concerned that our colleagues are treated fairly,” she said.

The University administration’s response to those concerns “has been favorable recently,” she said, citing ongoing efforts to improve conditions for non-tenure-stream faculty.

Despite the variety among Pitt faculty, “there are a lot of shared concerns,” said Gaddy. “That faculty who are laboring as teachers, as knowledge creators, are valued and given dignity, treated equitably and fairly — I think that’s a shared concern. I believe that the administration shares that concern as well.”

While organizers are seeking broad input from faculty University-wide, a Pitt faculty organizing committee informational flyer highlights equity, job security, transparency and workplace democracy as key values.

The document calls for fair compensation, benefits and recognition; resources such as up-to-date computers, desks and offices; support for professional development; stable, long-term contracts; transparent policies and procedures and independent mechanisms to guarantee academic freedom and professional autonomy.

Gaddy said the document aimed to pinpoint shared concerns: “What brings us together as faculty? What is it we have in common?

“It’s all about doing our job better, being better educators, and having the resources to do that.

“We’re committed to the University. It’s not just about our salaries. We want to do our job the best we can,” Gaddy said.

In her own conversations with fellow faculty members, Gaddy said response has been more positive than negative.

“There are always doubters because of failed efforts in the past, but I think people want this. I’m sensing faculty feel a need for it.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow    

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 5

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