By SUSAN JONES
The staff union organizing effort seems to be gaining some steam. In the fall, you may have seen organizers handing out information and collecting signatures around campus or you may have received a follow-up phone call recently from the United Steelworkers in response to a survey on interest in a union and what issues are most important.
Just this week, Pitt’s vice chancellor for human resources, James Gallaher Jr., announced the administration has set up a website to answer frequently asked questions and provide other resources. “We have a long history of working effectively with unions and respect the right of our employees to decide whether or not to choose a union,” Gallaher said in an email to staff.
The union effort, which would include staff from all Pitt’s campuses, was first announced in September 2021. Organizers on campus say they are making progress, but there’s no specific timeline yet. A staff union website contains information about the group’s work and about the USW, of which the staff union would be a part.
“The ultimate goal is to get to a point where there might be a vote,” said Dylan Nagy, who has worked as a data analyst in the School of Public Health for four years and is helping with union efforts. “It’s just about talking with people. And I know a lot more people know about what’s happening and are involved now than there was even just six months ago.”
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in an interview last week that he’s seen signs of canvassing and other union-related activities picking up.
“The employees have a right to look at how they work with management,” Gallagher said. “We took that position with the faculty. And I’m going to take the same position with the staff. It’s a big decision. It’s a very important decision. It’s a decision that has long term consequences. My only comment is that the employees are free to explore that. … But I certainly hope that they understand that it’s really important and that they become fully informed.”
Organizers have been asking people through the survey and in person: “What are things that you would like to see changed here to make this a better workplace for you and for others?” The issues they hear about the most are pay that isn’t as competitive as it can be and parking.
“Some people are concerned about the benefits packages,” Nagy said. “There are good benefits at Pitt, but they don’t work for everybody necessarily. I know that some people, for example, can’t save enough money per month in their retirement plan to actually utilize Pitts retirement benefits.”
Another concern he’s heard is “about losing hybrid work moving forward because they felt like they didn’t really have much of a voice in going from fully remote during the pandemic, to then back to hybrid.”
Nagy said in talking to people he’s found they really enjoy working at Pitt, but “they have valid concerns about their job in terms of pay or competitiveness, … and they don’t really know how to get these things addressed. … There is this feeling that we can work together and we can actually push this forward and have this fixed and addressed, which will make me even happier being here, and it will also make this a better workplace for other people and potentially for people that we can recruit for the University.”
Nagy has been spending time talking to staff colleagues in his school and said there are organizers throughout the University. They also are asking people to sign authorization cards, which are needed before there can be a vote on whether the USW will represent staff. The cards do not obligate the signer to vote for or against the union, but instead indicate that the signer would like to see an election happen.
“Some people, even though they don’t support the union, they said, ‘Yeah, I’ll support getting the vote.’ That’s great. It’s going to keep happening anyway, so you might as well just say, let’s get the vote; let’s see where the staff stands.”
In fall 2022, there were just under 8,000 Pitt employees classified as full-time staff. Not all of these would be covered by the union. About 800 people — from police to drivers to maintenance and cleaning staff — are already represented by separate unions, and supervisors would not be part of the bargaining unit. In order to request an election, the union has to have signatures from at least 30 percent of the eligible staff.
“Talking with people who are working higher up on the union effort, they feel pretty optimistic about how things are going and they think with as large of a staff as this is that we’ve made pretty good progress,” Nagy said.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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