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October 26, 1995

Pro union

Under unionization, decisions about faculty salaries and fringe benefits would be made through negotiations between faculty, administrators and trustees — "and not determined unilaterally by the administration and trustees after going through the motions of consultation," Mark Ginsburg said.

He noted the administration's decision in March to eliminate HealthAmerica. "This decision, furthermore, came in the wake of the previous year's decision to reduce the benefit package for new faculty and staff employees, while the board [of trustees] refused to even consider paring the generous special benefits enjoyed by administrative officers of the University. This arrogant use of power demonstrates why we need a faculty union and collective bargaining," Ginsburg said.

He also recalled the administration's decision in April to freeze Pitt employees' salaries at least until January. "Not only was this decision rendered outside the context of bargaining with faculty or staff, but the decision also pre-empted final deliberations of the University Planning and Budgeting Committee, which was created to make budgetary recommendations to the chancellor and ultimately to the trustees.

"I assume many colleagues question whether the salary freeze decision was necessary or whether it was based on the correct set of fiscal priorities," Ginsburg continued. "Nevertheless, even if you might agree with the decision, I would hope that you would share my outrage at such an uncollegial process of decision-making." According to the UF, Pitt faculty salaries would get a boost from unionization. During a 10-year period from the 1986-87 to the current academic year, the average salary for a full-time faculty member at Pitt went from being about equal to that of a comparable faculty member at Temple University, to lagging about $10,000 behind, Ginsburg said. The main reason for this is that Temple faculty are unionized, he said.

See the "Anti" section for comments by Massey and Brumble about Temple.

"Part-time faculty and those at regional campuses also tend to benefit under contracts negotiated through collective bargaining," Ginsburg continued. "This occurs, at least in part, because different groups of faculty come to understand that although different salaries for different roles and levels of accomplishment are necessary, when faculty in some categories are paid much less for performing the same functions, administrators and trustees may be encouraged, for example, to substitute cheaper faculty for those that are more expensive." Ginsburg added that unionization would give Pitt more protection against attacks on higher education by state legislators such as Rep. John Lawless, whose select committee on higher education has been holding hearings on such issues as sabbaticals and teaching loads.

"If unchallenged, Lawless would eliminate or drastically reduce sabbaticals, ax tuition benefits for faculty and staff members' dependents, and dictate arbitrary increases in teaching loads," Ginsburg said. "Threats such as these are another reason why Pitt faculty need a union and collective bargaining. We need to have a presence and a strong voice in Harrisburg, and not only to counter such preposterous proposals. If we were organized, Pitt faculty in general would be able to mobilize more effectively on these issues, but also to develop a stronger argument for increasing the embarrassingly low level of appropriations provided by the legislature for public institutions of higher education in Pennsylvania. This is one of the points I emphasized when, thanks to support from the state and national level AAUP [American Association of University Professors] with which UF is affiliated, I was able to testify before the Lawless committee." Ginsburg thanked Provost Maher for what he called the outstanding job Maher did in presenting Pitt's case during a series of appearances before the Lawless committee. "But at the same time, I would observe the irony that, No. 1, the administration and trustees have not acted on a proposal to provide tuition benefits for part-time faculty, a benefit already available to part-time staff, and, No. 2, there is pressure currently for various schools and departments at the Oakland campus to increase their teaching loads from levels that have historically existed here and at other top research-oriented universities." Warning against what he called administrative attempts to divide and conquer, Ginsburg said: "If we buy the argument that faculty are too diverse to unite and organize, then we leave to administrators and trustees, and perhaps legislators, the power to decide what is best for faculty and the University." Unionization also will make Pitt a more authentically democratic institution and will ensure that faculty are treated with greater dignity, Ginsburg added.

Philip Wion urged the audience not to give too much value to anti-union "horror stories" about strikes, union leaders who sell out academic values in exchange for pay raises, and how unionization adds a new layer of bureaucracy to an institution.

Anti-union forces "talk about United Faculty organizers as if we were strangers, aliens, outsiders who don't understand what universities are all about and who don't care about their students. That's not what I see as I look out over this group. That's not what I see among my colleagues in the English department, and among members of the United Faculty," Wion said.

"We [UF members] believe we can do better for Pitt, for our students, for higher education, for the values we all care about. No one I know came into higher education to make a lot of money. But there needs to be equity." A faculty strike would come "only as a last resort, and only if a majority of our colleagues supported it," he said. "That's not what unions are about, although that's the caricature which the media reinforce daily." Recently, the faculty union at the University of Cincinnati negotiated a new contract, and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers agreed to a year's salary freeze, Wion noted. "That's very different from having a salary freeze imposed," he said.

"All of the positive, productive, creative, imaginative work that faculty do through the organizations they elect to represent them — most of it happens off stage," Wion said. "It doesn't get reported in the media. One doesn't hear about it. Strikes are very rare in higher education. Successfully negotiated contracts are commonplace. They happen all the time. About one-third of university faculty in the United States are represented by unions of their choosing, and their union leaders are faculty themselves, not outsiders." Just as unionization makes administrators more responsible and accountable to faculty, union leaders themselves are answerable to the faculty who elect them, Wion said. "To be sure, it [negotiating contracts] takes hard work, and if no one is interested in doing that hard work, it won't get done…but nobody I know who belongs to the United Faculty or supports it wants to play games. We want to engage in serious negotiations." Wion, who chairs the University Senate budget policies committee and played a leading role in establishing the University Planning and Budgeting System, said a faculty union would complement, rather than replace, Pitt's existing governance system. Under the current system, faculty work side by side with administrators and offer advice — but often that advice is ignored, according to Wion.

"That is frustrating," he said. "It is also frustrating when the [Senate's] tenure and academic freedom committee, which attempts to see to it that justice is done in individual cases of abuse of faculty rights, puts in long hours simply to be overruled by the administration." While some faculty members might file frivolous complaints under a union grievance system, union leaders try to minimize such cases, Wion said. The value of a legally binding grievance system far outweighs any drawbacks, he added.

Mellon Professor Fritz Ringer said during the question-and-answer session that, based on his experience during a successful unionization drive at Boston University and from his work with the national council of the AAUP, unions differ from university to university. "They have different objectives depending on the needs of the institutions they serve," he said.

"Unions are very different in how they bargain for salaries," Ringer continued. "They all bargain for an overall sum for increases, but then they vary in how they allocate them among merit, across-the-board and equity considerations. The faculty that supports a union has to be prepared for a little give and take, but also lots of internal discussion and voting about how that distribution is going to take place." Ringer, like Wion and Ginsburg, emphasized that Pitt does have some administrators who are talented, collegial and well-intentioned. "Unionization," Ringer argued, "is a way of supporting those people, not undercutting them." Apologizing for the hyperbole of his analogy, Ringer compared Pitt's current governance system to the Bosnian crisis. "As we have seen in Bosnia, it is not possible even for well-intentioned mediators to broker a peace if the balance of power between two parties is radically uneven." Ginsburg said unionization involves a fundamental reform of a university's governance system. It's not about whether Pitt faculty like or don't like the provost or the interim chancellor, he said. "This is a structural issue. You could have loved King George III, but still not have wanted to live in a colony."

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 5

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