Grad students, Pitt administration make their cases for and against unionization to PLRB


Graduate students, professors and University of Pittsburgh administrators began testifying this week before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

The week-long hearing, which is taking place in the Hilton Garden Inn in Oakland, will determine whether or not graduate students are considered employees who have the ability to unionize.

The Pitt Graduate Student Union is one of two main unionization campaigns that have rustled the Pitt community. Both campaigns are represented by the United Steelworkers Union, one of the largest unions in the Pennsylvania area.

Pitt chose legal representation from Ballard Spahr, a Philadelphia-based law firm that, according to its website, offers clients “union avoidance training and counseling” and knows “how to help clients maintain a union-free environment” among its many legal services.

In their opening statement on behalf of Pitt, Ballard Spahr legal representatives said, among many arguments, that graduate students are students and not employees.

Pitt also provides graduate students stipends, tuition remission, health insurance and other forms of financial support to ensure that students are able to focus on their studies, the legal representatives added.

USW legal representatives said graduate students do the same, or similar work, as adjuncts or other part-time faculty. While a Pitt policy is in place that says graduate students who teach are limited to 20-hour work weeks, some testified that this policy is loosely enforced.

The hearings will continue until Friday at the hotel from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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