Reports detail Pitt’s payments to law firm from 2015-18

The Philadelphia-based law firm representing Pitt at this week’s Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing concerning the graduate student union election was paid nearly $240,000 by the University from July 2015 to June 2018, according to financial disclosure forms filed with the state Department of Education.

Ballard Spahr has advised the University on both the graduate student and faculty union efforts and represented Pitt in various hearings. It also has done work for the University on other matters, according to a Pitt spokesperson.

“This firm has provided expertise in numerous areas of the law over the last 10 years,” according to the spokesperson. “As the reports show, they are one vendor among hundreds that we maintain partnerships with, and this vendor network plays a key role in helping the University meet its mission of leveraging knowledge for society’s gain while also efficiently addressing specific issues affecting students, faculty members and staff.”

According to its website, the law firm offers clients “union avoidance training and counseling” and knows “how to help clients maintain a union-free environment” among many other legal services.

The payments from Pitt include: $20,555 in FY2015-16; $73,922 in FY2016-17; and $144,584 in FY2017-18. The amount of the payments was first reported by Pitt News.

The annual financial disclosure forms to the state must be filed by the end of the calendar year, and show payments made by the University for goods and services in excess of $1,000. There is no report yet on payments from July 2018 until now — a crucial period when both the student and faculty groups were actively pursuing unions.

Penn State and The University of Pennsylvania also hired Ballard Spahr following graduate student unionization efforts. Ultimately graduate students at Penn State in April 2018 to not unionize, and at Penn, graduate students withdrew their petition last year to vote for a union.

Organizers for Pitt’s graduate student union are asking the PLRB to order a new election because of “unfair labor practices” by Pitt and unfair treatment by PLRB officials during the election.

— Susan Jones