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October 26, 1995

To unionize or not to unionize?

Union — yes? Or no? For the third time in two decades, Pitt faculty will have to answer that question if the United Faculty (UF) files for a collective bargaining election here.

UF leaders announced last week that they have collected signatures of support from 30 percent of eligible Pitt faculty, enough to petition the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board for an election. UF seeks to represent about 1,700 full-time and 600 part-time faculty, including faculty librarians, at all Pitt schools and campuses except the School of Medicine.

But because the United Faculty would need more than 50 percent of the vote to win an election, UF leaders say they want to collect authorization cards from at least half of the faculty before petitioning the state.

UF launched its current organizing drive in April. Previous Pitt faculty unionization efforts failed in 1976 (when pro-union forces fell short of a majority in a run-off election) and 1991 (when the United Faculty lost by a 1,243-719 vote).

Pro- and anti-union professors squared off at the Oct. 18 University Senate meeting in Frick Fine Arts Auditorium. Representing the United Faculty in the debate were the group's president, Mark Ginsburg, a professor in the education school, and UF treasurer (and past president) Philip Wion, an associate professor of English. Arguing against faculty unionization were English professor David Brumble and Gerald Massey, Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy and director of the Center for Philosophy of Science.

Each professor was limited to a 15-minute presentation, but each side designated one speaker to use most of its allotted time — Ginsburg for the United Faculty, Massey against unionization. A question-and-answer session followed the presentations.

Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who attended the debate along with Provost James Maher, said Pitt's senior administration remains opposed to a faculty union here. "My belief is that unionization would not serve the academic aspirations of the institution, and I believe that, ultimately, that will be the decision reached by my faculty colleagues," Nordenberg said.

Nordenberg and Board of Trustees Chairperson J. Wray Connolly said the University has no plans to take legal action in an attempt to block a faculty union election. Nordenberg said: "I'm sure that we would take steps to make sure that any election — if there is one — would be conducted in accordance with the laws governing such proceedings. But there really are no specific plans in place at this point in time on this issue." For Connolly's comments on faculty unionization, see interview beginning on page 3.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 5

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