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April 25, 1996

United Faculty suspends campaign

The United Faculty (UF) has suspended its latest campaign to unionize Pitt faculty.

UF leaders announced this week that they are calling off indefinitely the campaign that they launched a year ago to get faculty to sign cards authorizing UF to represent them in collective bargaining.

United Faculty President Mark Ginsburg said the group has collected cards from more than one-third of the 2,300 eligible faculty members who make up the bargaining unit — exceeding the 30 percent minimum that UF needed to petition the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to hold a union election here.

But the United Faculty had been pushing for a response of 51 percent or better, enough to feel confident of winning an election.

That goal eluded UF and its precursor organization in two previous attempts. The first effort to unionize Pitt faculty, in 1976, fell short of a majority in a run-off election. The United Faculty lost a 1991 election by a vote of 1,243-719.

Ginsburg said UF decided to suspend the card-signing campaign this week because it marks the end of the academic year as well as the one-year anniversary of the card-signing campaign. "Suspending the campaign for collective bargaining, it should be noted, does not translate into the UF discarding its commitment to unite, organize and empower Pitt faculty to create a better University community," United Faculty leaders said in a written statement.

They said UF members will continue to:

* Work within Pitt's existing governance structure, while trying to improve it.

* Collaborate with other "organized and organizing" Pitt employees through the University of Pittsburgh Labor Unity Council.

* Lobby for statewide action through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Coalition.

* Fight for social justice by participating in coalition groups such as the Alliance for Progressive Action.

"Moreover," the written statement concluded, "when there is evidence that the majority of Pitt faculty favor collective bargaining, the UF will resume the card campaign." But the longer the UF waits to resume the campaign, the more it will have to start from scratch. Authorization cards are valid for only one year after they have been signed. Many of the cards that UF collected were signed during the first few months of the campaign, Ginsburg said.

"We don't have a specific time frame for re-activating the campaign," he said.

Asked what it would take to convince UF leaders to re-activate the campaign, Ginsburg replied: "When a sizeable number of faculty who have not previously supported collective bargaining start to talk positively about it as a way of solving the University's problems — this could happen at a University Senate forum, for example — that would be an example of the 'evidence' that we referred to in our statement." UF organizers will continue to monitor faculty opinion in schools throughout the University, said Ginsburg, a professor of administrative and policy studies in the School of Education. "Over a third of our faculty are strongly in favor of collective bargaining, but at this point it doesn't appear to be a majority. If we sense that the wind is shifting, we will consider re-activating" the card-signing campaign, he said.

Through the years, Pitt's senior administration has fought faculty unionization — first through the courts and later through anti-union mailings. In November 1990, after seven years of litigation, the state labor relations board rejected the administration's bid to have Pitt faculty declared "managers" and therefore ineligible to unionize. That ruling paved the way for the 1991 collective bargaining election here.

More recently, leaders of the Board of Trustees had argued that the likelihood of faculty unionization here would scare off top chancellor candidates. Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg issued a written response to United Faculty's suspension of its card-signing campaign: "Though I know and respect many of the leaders of the campus collective bargaining effort, I always have believed that faculty unionization is contrary to the best interests of the University of Pittsburgh and the constituencies we serve. Therefore, I was pleased to learn that the United Faculty has suspended its signature drive.

"The current academic year has been characterized by constructive and cooperative relationships between faculty and administration. Given the important responsibilities we shoulder and the many challenges we face, it is essential that everyone within the academic community contribute to further progress by continuing to work energetically and collegially to advance our shared goals." Trustee James Roddey, chairperson of Pitt's chancellor search committee, told the University Times: "I think the candidates would prefer a non-unionized faculty, so I believe this [suspension of the UF campaign] is positive news for our search." According to UF leaders, Pitt's last chancellor search, in 1991, had a major impact on that year's collective bargaining election. Many faculty members, they said, rejected unionization at that time in the hope that a new chancellor would solve the University's problems. But the current chancellor search was not so influential, according to Ginsburg.

"One of the strongest factors, I believe, was that many faculty members lack direct experience with unions," he said. "And in this country today, unions are generally painted in a less-than-positive light. Probably the strongest factor, in my opinion, was the tendency — particularly among educated professionals such as faculty — to think in individualist terms rather than in collective terms.

"Based on the conversations that we [UF organizers] have had with faculty throughout the University during the past year, I'd say that a majority of them agree with us that the University suffers from serious problems — a worsening financial situation, threats to academic freedom and tenure rights, among other things. But the majority are not convinced that they can pull together as a group to make a difference in their lives and in the life of the institution."

— Bruce Steele

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