Faculty union and University can’t settle on bargaining unit size


The Union of Pitt Faculty and University legal representatives still haven’t settled on an appropriate bargaining unit size after Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearings on Dec. 2 and 3. 

And it’s unclear how long the process will continue as the debate on which employees count as “supervisors” has not been completely agreed upon.

University legal representatives from the law firm Ballard Spahr said that some names on the University’s initial proposed bargaining unit should be removed from the list. The exact number is unclear.

During the hearing, Ballard Spahr presented a list of 89 faculty, including some who may have retired from Pitt, and one faculty member who died, who they agree should be removed from the bargaining unit. Also, they handed over a list with 152 faculty who may be considered administrators and department chairs, according to a USW representative.

University spokesman Kevin Zwick said Pitt made an honest effort to produce these records for the hearings.

“The hearings also revealed the University’s good faith effort on November 1 to adjust the list due to a small number of individuals who were either included or excluded in error,” Zwick said.

Pitt legal representatives repeatedly argued that the union did not give enough information to University employees when they began gathering employment records. The University generated a list of 4,018 faculty members.

Due to the size of the list, the PLRB in April initially denied a hearing for the union, claiming it hadn’t met the original 30 percent threshold of support for its proposed bargaining unit. USW legal representatives successfully appealed the decision later that month.

As a result, the PLRB ordered Pitt to hand over its scanned, handwritten employee records forms to the USW for further review. Pitt legal representatives gave the USW these records on Nov. 1.

USW legal representatives initially said 800 of those faculty don’t belong in the University’s proposed bargaining unit and accused Pitt of deliberately “packing” its list to make the threshold higher. In the December hearings, after reviewing the list Pitt submitted, the union stopped contesting a portion of the names on it. 

It’s unclear just how many names have been resolved since many part-time faculty, visiting professors, faculty on long term disability, faculty on sabbatical or professional development are still up for debate. Throughout the hearing, both legal parties questioned the employment status of faculty who fell under these categories.

Overall, the union estimates the appropriate bargaining unit size to be roughly 3,300 people. 

Pitt legal representatives called Amanda Brodish, Pitt director of Data Analytics, and Victoria Lancaster, with University Records, to testify on how they constructed the list submitted to the PLRB. 

Brodish and Lancaster said that the list was generated using keywords in Pitt’s Payroll software, Oracle, handwritten employee records and other human resources databases.

Lancaster, however, noted that Oracle has certain limitations on its ability to gather employee information. Also, she said, she did not seek to exclude people who may have been considered “supervisors” when generating the list because she wasn’t sure what constitutes a "supervisor."

If she distinguished faculty titles when searching the database, she’d exclude “large swaths of faculty” from the list, she said.

Lancaster said her office relies on individual schools and departments to report when faculty retire or are no longer teaching at Pitt. Because of this, there can be some inaccuracies on the generated list when this information isn’t reported.

The University defended the process it used to produce these records for the USW.

“At this week’s hearing, the University of Pittsburgh showed it used a reasonable method to develop the showing of interest list in response to the United Steelworkers’ petition,” the University’s statement said. “At the same time, we heard the United Steelworkers retract many of their numerous unsupported claims about the accuracy of the list.

“The University also re-stated what we’ve said previously: after union organizers submitted cards, the PLRB instructed the University to provide a list of faculty. Although the University proposed categories of faculty who should be excluded as a manager or supervisor, there was not agreement from the Steelworkers. Without agreement on exclusions, we properly responded with an inclusive list of those on faculty appointments.”

Both legal parties will have until Feb. 14, 2020, to file briefs based on these hearings, according to a union representative. The PLRB will issue a ruling on an appropriate bargaining unit size within the following 45 days.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.