By MARTY LEVINE
“The University will maintain free employee access” to recreation facilities in Bellefield and Trees halls “for the indefinite future,” assured David DeJong, senior vice chancellor for Business and Operations on Feb. 28.
The move followed a meeting with University Senate President Robin Kear, Senate Benefits and Welfare Committee Chair Linda Tashbook and others to request that these facilities stay open and accessible despite the advent of the new wellness center on O’Hara Street — especially since access to the latter will likely cost employees a fee.
The committee had just met one week earlier and was formulating plans to urge this move across campus. The committee and Staff Council had noted that the recreation benefit had been offered for decades, and that the existing facilities are well used by faculty and staff and help employees with physical and mental health, especially during the lingering pandemic. “Why would we take away something that we know is a stress reducer?” Tashbook had asked.
“While we do have some optional benefits at Pitt, employee wellness is not optional and therefore wellness benefits should not be optional,” she added after DeJong’s announcement.
The committee at its Feb. 21 meeting also reviewed its mission statement in light of current faculty union negotiations for a first contract with Pitt’s administration. Citing the mission to “advocate for protecting and advancing” Pitt’s benefits program and that the “committee functions in a consultative role in the process of shared governance through discussion with Human Resources and the administration,” Tashbook emphasized that “we will continue to have that role,” even with the union.
“The chair of this committee will not likely be able to go to the administration as we used to,” she allowed. But there will be a committee representative who can approach the administration with issues, she added, and “the union representative may come to us” to ask for committee discussion and input. “I don’t know what form this will take,” she concluded.
“I’ve worked with unions,” said committee member Harvey Wolfe, retired Swanson School of Engineering faculty member, “and I have found that when you unionize the advantage goes to the owner, not to the union. … The administration doesn’t have to do anything unless it is negotiated. The benevolence I’ve seen from the administration” at Pitt over the past 60 years “will no longer exist.”
“This committee,” he added “will now be focused on what we want the union to negotiate and the union may not choose to include the issue if they have other priorities.” A role for the committee in influencing the union will now be “critical.”
Committee member Laure Lovett, faculty member in the Dietrich School’s history department, countered that, at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst — one of the most unionized higher education institutions, where she previously taught — she saw lots of “off-table” negotiations happen unofficially. She found that this early stage of unionization now happening at Pitt is “not typical” of how unions and administrations bargain, so the long-standing relationship between faculty and Pitt’s administration is still possible, she believed.
Kear reminded the committee that “while this union is large, it doesn’t represent all the constituents that the Senate represents. It is challenging. We are working through it. It’s not like we would just be feeding information to the union.” She acknowledged that state law seems to say that shared governance rules and roles must be part of the union/management negotiations, and that the union “can use information that you gather as they wish.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.