Faculty union rally draws big crowd outside trustees’ meeting

Union members on steps of William Pitt Union


The past few weeks have seen an increase in visibility of proposals and counterproposals in negotiations between the Union of Pitt Faculty and Pitt’s administration, as well as a very public rally by the union before the Feb. 24 Board of Trustees meeting

The rally brought around 150 faculty and other union supporters to the lobby of the William Pitt Union and led to a few tense moments as Pitt Police asked the group to leave before the public portion of the trustees’ meeting started.

The union was there to bring compensation issues to the attention of the Board of Trustees, which was meeting in the nearby Assembly Room. The union’s bargaining committee in November proposed an annual base salary of $60,000 for all full-time faculty members and a comparable pro-rated amount for part-time faculty, as well as cost-of-living raises that keep pace with inflation.

“We are here today to call on the board to tell the administration to come to the table, pick up the pace of bargaining and specifically bargain with us around fair pay for faculty,” Melinda Ciccocioppo, head of the union’s communication and action team, said at the rally.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said after the meeting, “I think we’re all interested in making progress. I mean, this is our faculty, so it’s important to the University as well. I certainly don’t agree that the administration is stonewalling in any way. In fact, the reports from the sessions are all very positive. This is a big and complex bargaining unit, and the pace of this is the pace of getting to agreements, not the pace of producing proposals. I certainly understand they’re interested in concluding this. I will say we have an interest in concluding this. But the best way to do that is to stay actively engaged in the negotiating process and continue to work toward an agreement.”

At the rally

Union members on balcony in William Pitt Union

Several union members spoke to the crowd, which filled the lobby near the information desk and went up onto the stairway and balcony leading onto Schenley Quad.

As they have been in the past, the board members were already in the Assembly Room for a private meeting when the union rally began at 10:30 a.m. There was a short break before the public portion of the meeting, but few board members interacted with the union.

After the speeches, the group began singing the trade union anthem “Solidarity Forever.” At this point, Pitt Police asked the group to leave, with one officer telling Tyler Bickford, chair of the union’s bargaining committee, that he would be the first one arrested if the protesters didn’t get moving. The group peacefully proceeded outside to the steps of the union before dispersing.

In a statement after the rally, the union said: “We are pleased with the large turnout at our rally outside of the public Board of Trustees meeting last week. The faculty attending the rally made every effort to be respectful of our shared campus space, while also calling attention to the urgent need for the administration to engage productively in bargaining around fair pay for faculty.”

The University’s statement said that Pitt “prohibits demonstrations in its buildings without proper space approval. The faculty union was informed of the University’s policy regarding demonstrations prior to today’s events. While members of the faculty union initially gathered inside of the William Pitt Union, they were asked to disperse once the Board of Trustees meeting began. Any communications between the Pitt Police and union leadership on this issue were intended to ensure the union was fully informed of next steps.”

Gallagher said after the Board of Trustees meeting that he could only speak about the protest generally, because he was in the meeting with the board when it happened.

“Protest is part of our … freedom of expression. It’s actually part of our academic values,” he said. “But a protest is also about doing it in a way that respects the fact that there’s other users of facilities and other things ongoing. … Our goal in this is always to just be very clear, we don’t want this to come from misunderstanding. So we have been in discussions with union leadership well in advance of this. I think there was very clear understandings of what was permissible and what would be more of a problem.”

One Board of Trustees member, Pennsylvania Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), whose district includes Oakland, spoke briefly to the group, “I stand with all of you and the work that you’re trying to achieve. … Thank you for being here, … and we’re looking forward to working with you to get through this process.”

Congressman Chris Deluzio, who worked in Pitt Cyber and on the union organizing efforts until he ran for and won a U.S. House seat last year, told the crowd, “I know you guys are still fighting and I wanted to tell you, you deserve a contract and the decent basic benefits and pay that every worker in this country has earned and deserves. I’m with you. Stay strong, keep fighting and keep pushing.”

Lech Harris, a part-time instructor in the English department who was at the rally, said he gets paid about $700 a month to teach a course, which involves three hours a week in the classroom, office hours and all the out-of-classroom work.

“We approved the union here by 71 percent, I think in large part because of pay equity issues,” he said. “When we surveyed the faculty, what came back was that one of the number one issues for faculty at all levels was pay for the lowest-paid faculty. So there is solidarity even with tenure-track/tenured professors: They want to see part-time people and full-time, non-tenure-stream people get paid more. This is a big part of why we decided to have a union and fought for a union. So this is a top priority.”

Mariana Whitmer, a part-time instructor in the music department who also was at the rally, said the main reason she supports the union “is recognition, is acknowledgement of my participation in the department and in the education of these students. … The fact that I’m being recognized as an important part of that process is huge for me and my colleagues.”

What’s happening now

Both the Pitt administration and the union have recently made the proposals and counterproposals being discussed in bargaining sessions more public.

The administration has posted a list of proposals it has submitted to the union on its Faculty Unionization website. “From the University’s perspective, its discussions with the faculty union at these recent sessions provided for a deeper understanding of the basis for each side’s positions,” the website states.

The union’s website has been regularly posting bargaining updates during the past year, but the pace of those updates has picked up. In the most recent post on Feb. 27, the union said the two sides had tentatively reached agreement on Health and Safety, Union Communication and Access, and Dues Deduction.

The union also said the administration presented new counterproposals on Workloads and Discipline & Discharge, although those are not listed on the administration website.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.