By DONOVAN HARRELL
The University of Pittsburgh paid longtime legal consultant Ballard Spahr more than $1 million in 2019, roughly more than seven times what it paid in 2018.
First reported by the Pitt News, the Office of University Counsel paid Ballard Spahr $1,071,573 between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, according to a recent financial disclosure report.
The Public School Code of 1949 in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires state-related schools to report goods and services contracts that cost more than $1,000 annually. Previous reports show that Pitt paid Ballard Spahr $144,584 in 2018 and $73,922 in 2017.
The Philadelphia-based law firm also has performed other legal services for the University since 2009, according to a University spokesman.
“The University has engaged Ballard Spahr — one of many vendors in our partner network — on a variety of legal matters dating back to 2009,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement. “This includes the two separate unionization efforts led by the United Steelworkers. No matter how these issues evolve, the complex legal landscape emerging from unionization efforts requires expert outside counsel.”
The statement went on to reiterate Pitt administrators’ stance on the ongoing unionization efforts:
“With respect to the effort concerning faculty: We are following the set process for responding to the United Steelworkers' appeal after the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board determined that their petition failed to get the required 30 percent showing of interest from faculty.
With respect to the effort concerning graduate students: We continue to believe that the results of the April 2019 election — where graduate students voted against being represented by the United Steelworkers — should be upheld.
Moving forward, our longstanding support for faculty and graduate students will not change, regardless of how these efforts evolve.”
Pitt isn’t the only state university that has hired the law firm.
Penn State, The University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and Lincoln University also have hired Ballard Spahr for legal consultation. Penn State and the University of Pennsylvania, in particular, have seen recent unionization movements. Ultimately, graduate students at Penn State voted in April 2018 to not unionize, and at Penn, graduate students withdrew their petition in February 2018 to vote for a union.
Legal fees for Ballard Spahr’s services are similar among the universities, according to multiple financial disclosures.
Penn State paid the law firm: $27,693 in 2014-2015, $12,462 in 2015-2016; $214,988 in 2016-2017; and $915,668 in 2017-2018.
Temple University paid the law firm: $881,600 between 2013-2014 for legal counsel; $860,502 between 2014-2015; and $819,953 between 2015-2016.
Pitt’s unionization efforts will continue into 2020 as Pitt legal representatives from Ballard Spahr contend with legal representatives from the United Steelworkers, which represents both the graduate and faculty unions.
Pitt and the USW have not been able to agree on an appropriate bargaining unit size for Pitt faculty while the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has not yet established a date for a new graduate student unionization vote.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.
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