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February 16, 2017

Grad students kick off union card drive

Pitt’s graduate student organizing committee has launched a card-signing campaign for representation by the Academic Workers Association of the United Steelworkers (USW).

The committee ( seeks to organize an estimated 2,000-3,000 Pitt graduate student employees including research assistants, teaching assistants, teaching fellows and lab techs.

A Feb. 11 card-signing event in Oakland drew 75-80 people, said organizing committee member Ben Case, a graduate student in sociology. He said the majority were graduate student workers who signed cards to kick off the effort.

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) requires that 30 percent of those in a proposed bargaining unit sign authorization cards before an election can be requested, but organizers traditionally aim to secure a much higher percentage of signed cards before petitioning PLRB for an election. Case said the organizing committee aims to have signatures from at least 50 percent of Pitt’s graduate student workers before filing the petition.

Signatures are good for one year from the date they’re signed. “We envision and hope for a much faster timetable than that,” Case said, although he declined to estimate a timeframe.

The USW publicly launched its organizing efforts at Pitt a year ago. (See Feb. 4, 2016, University Times.)

In addition to the graduate student union, the USW would organize full- and part-time faculty on all Pitt campuses as a second bargaining group.

A Pitt faculty organizing committee is active at the University ( but no timetable has been announced for a faculty union card campaign.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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