Faculty union turns in signed cards asking Pennsylvania labor board for an election


On Jan. 18, the Union of Pitt Faculty handed in signed cards asking for a union election to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in Harrisburg.

The collective bargaining unit would cover roughly 3,500 full- and part-time faculty across Pitt’s campuses, according to the United Steelworkers Union, who is representing the Pitt Faculty.

The group began collecting the confidential, anonymous cards in January 2018, and, throughout the year, organizers presented their arguments for a union. Many cited pay, job security and a lack of transparency from the University among their reasons for the campaign.

Faculty union supporters are celebrating this as a “milestone” moment for the group.

“A lot of us have been working very hard on this for a long time,” said Tyler Bickford, director of graduate studies in the English Department. “So, we’re really excited about the next steps and moving toward our goals.”

Melinda Ciccocioppo, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology, said she was hopeful that the path forward will be easy.

“I’m pretty hopeful that we will be able to establish a union and get down to bargaining, hopefully making the University a better place,” Ciccocioppo said.

Paul Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, echoed similar sentiments, saying he was “optimistic” about the campaign.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Johnson said. “This campaign’s been ongoing for a while. There’s a lot of positive signs.”

As for the next steps, the PLRB will hear from union organizers and the University to see if both can come to an agreement about the details of the election, including who will be a part of the bargaining unit, according to a Pitt Faculty Organizing Committee news release.

The bargaining unit — all faculty at all ranks, excluding the School of Medicine — is based on a PLRB ruling on Pitt from 1990, the release read.

If Pitt agrees to the unit, PLRB will ask Pitt for a list of all the employees in the unit. Afterward, the PLRB will compare this list to the cards provided by the union. If at least 30 percent of the unit signed union cards, then an election will be held.

University spokesman Joe Miksch said the University was aware of the cards being turned in and is reviewing the petition.

“We have learned that the United Steelworkers Union has petitioned the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to order an election to decide if eligible faculty will be represented by the United Steelworkers,” Miksch said in a statement. “While we review the petition, we strongly encourage faculty members to thoroughly discuss the unionization process and share accurate information about the pros and cons involved. The University, for its part, will remain dedicated to supporting our faculty members and their diverse interests regardless of how this issue evolves.”

Bickford said the University could have two main reactions to the petition: agree with the union members on the details of the bargaining unit or delay the process.

“I think we feel like we have a lot of momentum and we’re ready to move forward,” Bickford said. “But it’s kind of in the hands of the lawyers right now.”

Bickford declined to disclose how many cards were turned in but said “we certainly exceeded the legal minimum and … we think we have a very strong showing of support.”

A concrete timeline for the negotiations and vote has not been established yet.

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