Faculty union, Senate leaders make strides in opening lines of communication


Through the past few weeks, there has been much talk about how the University Senate, the new Union of Pitt Faculty and Pitt’s administration can work together while the latter two work out their initial collective bargaining agreement. Many more questions than answers remain, but lines of communication have opened between Senate Council and the union.

After a Dec. 5 meeting between Senate officers Robin Kear, Kris Kanthak, Penny Morel and Chris Bonneau and union leaders Tyler Bickford, Melinda Ciccocioppo and Marcy Pierson, along with Robin Sowards from United Steelworkers, both sides said they hope to continue communicating.

“We do recognize that we have shared goals for faculty. We all want robust shared governance,” Senate President Robin Kear said. “I think if we can have direct and open communication among the leadership groups, I think that will go a far way to turning down the temperature.”

Marcy Pierson, chair of the union’s Council of Representatives and an associate teaching professor in the Dietrich School’s Department of Music, said after the meeting she and her union colleagues “hoped to connect with Senate leadership regarding our shared goal of an improved faculty experience here at Pitt. We hope to improve communication and move toward a collaborative relationship with the Senate, and we feel the meeting was promising in that respect.

“Our main goal (of the meeting),” she added, “was to reaffirm that our union is strongly in favor of robust shared governance at Pitt.”

Pierson said the union leaders “are interested in having regular and open communication with Senate leadership, but it will be up to the Council of Representatives to decide how that will play out.”

Direct dealing

One of the major concerns is what the administration can and can’t discuss with members of the bargaining unit during shared governance meetings. The union has threatened to file unfair labor charges against Pitt’s administration if it discusses subjects of mandatory bargaining — wages, benefits and terms and conditions of work — directly with members of the bargaining unit outside of contract negotiations, which is called direct dealing.

The “mandatory and permissive” subjects of bargaining are not specifically spelled out — other than wages and benefits — which leaves a gray area for the administration, union and Senate. The administration has taken a conservative stance on what it can discuss in shared governance meetings, which almost always include members of the bargaining unit.

For instance, Kear noted she had given an academic freedom resolution the Senate passed in November to Provost Ann Cudd. “As academic freedom is the subject of bargaining, the provost has stated that she cannot legally work with bargaining unit members on this resolution,” Kear said. “She has met with the two co-chairs of TAFC (Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee), as those are both in the School of Medicine (who are outside the bargaining unit) to discuss how to move forward.”

When she asked the Union of Pitt Faculty about specific mandatory and permissive subjects of collective bargaining, Kear said a list was not provided. She said the union suggested the subjects will be similar to those in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Temple University and the Temple Association of University Professionals as well as the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s agreement with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

Pierson emphasized that protection of shared governance is built into the union’s collective bargaining agreement. She said a draft of the union’s proposal last spring was reviewed by Kear and presented to the Pitt administration during the negotiation process on April 20.

“We continue to hope that the administration will engage with us on this issue, since it would go a long way toward clarifying and streamlining the relationship between the Senate and our union,” Pierson explained. “In the absence of such an agreement, we are left with the dictates of the law.”

Policy development

Another issue that’s come up again lately is what happens with faculty who aren’t in the bargaining unit. This includes any faculty member in a supervisory role, such as department chair, and all School of Medicine faculty. This is not an insubstantial number of people. Med school faculty alone are more than half (2,564 in fall 2022) of Pitt’s 4,964 faculty.

One concrete step has been taken to protect those outside the bargaining unit while the negotiation process continues.

At the Dec. 8 Senate Council meeting, Kear discussed how new or updated University policies that might deal with items covered under a future collective bargaining agreement — mandatory bargaining issues — will be handled.

Those policies that have gone through the University’s development process and shared governance review and then been approved by the chancellor will apply only to faculty outside of the bargaining unit.

For instance, Senate Council approved a new relocation policy at the Dec. 8 meeting (see related story) that will apply only to those outside the bargaining unit. Members of the bargaining unit will still follow rules established in the previous policy. The same applies to a recently approved tuition exchange policy and intergovernmental personnel act policy.

“This is not the situation that we want, as evidenced by the recent Shared Governance Principles document,” Kear said, referring to a statement passed by Faculty Assembly on Nov. 30 clarifying shared governance’s role regarding policymaking and other University matters. “This is the situation we are in.”

Members of the bargaining unit also would not be on policy development committees for issues subject to bargaining, at least until the first CBA is reached.

But Kear was clear that the Senate and its committees, which have representatives from all parts of the University, would continue to move University policy forward for staff, students, postdocs and med school faculty. She also reiterated that members of the bargaining unit can still participate in committee discussions because they are not controlled by rules of direct dealing. That only applies to the University administration.

“I think that open discussions in committees can still occur, including with administrators,” she said in an email to Senate members. “It will be that for some topics, what will change is where the outcomes of those discussions apply.” 

One more issue

How the future collective bargaining agreement between the new faculty union and the administration will affect University Senate bylaws should concern its Bylaws and Procedures Committee, said co-chair Nick Bircher, a professor in the nurse anesthesia program and member of the union bargaining committee, at the Dec. 7 meeting. The committee will study CBAs from other educational institutions that are available to view publicly, he said, to examine possible implications for Senate rules. 

Chris Bonneau, immediate past president of the Senate and political science faculty member, suggested that because the Senate is an advisory group, its bylaws may not have to be adjusted, even if they allow the Senate to play a certain role prevented by the CBA: “The Senate bylaws may say we can do X, (and) we may not be able to do X, but it is OK to have it in the bylaws.”

Kear agreed that “the bylaw effects may be minimal. But the (University) policy is the place that may change” following a CBA. 

Bircher said the committee would still be circulating publicly accessible CBAs so “we can start to get a sense of what goes on in other institutions.” 

Marty Levine and Shannon O. Wells also contributed to this report. Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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