By SHANNON O. WELLS
An inability of faculty union bargaining unit members and administration officials to meet together and discuss certain issues in Senate committees while contract negotiations continue is ruffling feathers among students and staff who remain on the committees, which some say are now rendered ineffective.
That was the sentiment expressed by Anna Yatsko — a junior who has represented the College of General Studies on the Budget Policies Committee since August — at the Jan. 26 Senate Council meeting.
“In my individual duties as a representative of the (CGS) Student Government, I’m also concerned with the issues that are going on regarding the stagnation of these committees, namely the Budget Policies committee, which I sit on, and I’m left as one of the only remaining members who can function on that committee,” she said. “In my personal capacity, … outside of my student government position, I would urge the University to reverse course and work with the individuals who have been on these committees for so long.”
A threat by the union in the fall to file unfair labor practices charges against Pitt if it discussed issues of mandatory bargaining with bargaining unit members without the union present has caused the administration to take a hard line on what it can discuss at shared governance meetings if any members of the bargaining unit are present.
Melinda Ciccocioppo, head of the union’s communication and action team, said in an email that: “Our bargaining committee has proposed an interim policy on shared governance that would reduce disruptions to forms of shared governance outside of our union. Thus far the administration has not responded to this proposal. Our union supports faculty participation in governance across all levels.”
Tyler Bickford, who chairs the union’s bargaining committee and who had chaired the Budget Policies committee until last summer, is scheduled to attend the Feb. 15 Faculty Assembly meeting to answer questions on these issues.
In the Senate, the Faculty Affairs and Budget Policies committees have been the most impacted by the administration’s stance. Neither committee has scheduled meetings yet for this semester. At a December meeting of the budget committee, only four members remained — including Yatsko — to hear a report from the administration on 2021-22 salaries.
Yatsko said it’s important to her and other students that faculty and staff are being treated fairly. “The students value and deeply care about the well-being of the staff members, whether they’re happy here, whether their needs are being met, whether the privileges that they’ve entertained for a long time are still in existence.
“I know that stuff has been going on between all sorts of high-ups that I’m not privy to and I don’t fully understand, but I do think it’s important that we come together and still try and work things out rather than the administrative gridlock that things have ended up in.”
Yatsko said she believes compromises can be made “on both sides.”
“As students we stand behind the faculty that makes this University great,” she said in a follow-up email to the University Times. “I urge the University and union to prioritize the critical and useful dialog in shared governance. This affects every one of us.”
Senate Council President Robin Kear agreed that “it’s very difficult being in this interim phase” of union bargaining, but urged Yatsko and her fellow student representatives to move forward and try to “do what we can.”
“I don’t want to be so discouraging that we just give up. That’s not my goal here,” Kear said. “I just want to be able to explain some of the complexity, so I appreciate your comments. As a student, you’re right, it is important for students and staff to be able to get some of this information, and that is being impacted by the current state.”
Staff Council President Lindsay Rodzwicz Burns also expressed concerns about shared governance’s role during union bargaining. She said much of Staff Council’s information and input into shared governance “comes through the Senate and the Senate committees, and especially Budget Policies and Benefits and Welfare,” she said.
“That impacts … how we’re able to have our constituency represented as staff. So I know it’s not an ideal situation. We’re working through it as quickly as possible, but it is a concern over how that is managed,” she said.
Staff Council will have to find other ways to get information they have had access to in the past, but are not getting through the Senate committees that aren’t meeting or that are getting limited information from the administration. “I think that adds an additional layer of challenges.”
Chris Bonneau, immediate past president of Senate Council, said he and other council members met with union leadership the previous week and proposed a “series of things that we think can help with communication” and the work of shared governance.
“We are looking forward to hearing back on some of those things,” he said. “Whether or not they’re able to come some sort of agreement or not, I think it’s important to note that from our position, we are working with both the administration and shared governance, trying to put forward constructive proposals that strengthen our system here, while being mindful of the legal requirements that we are now bound by.”
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said while the willingness of the administration to work on these issues hasn’t changed, the way the process is playing out has, because of ongoing negotiations with the bargaining unit. “So it’s how it’s happening, not whether it’s happening,” he explained.
Geovette Washington, Pitt’s chief legal officer, said while the administration is committed to shared governance and involving everyone, particularly the bargaining unit, “the union has taken the position that we cannot talk to members of the bargaining unit through the shared governance process,” she said. “And they are correct, that it is a direct-dealing problem.”
Washington can’t advise the administration to continue in a manner that is “violative of law.” She said it was the University’s preference that shared governance continue to operate how it had between the October 2021 election that the union won and last fall, but the union’s threat of unfair labor charges forced the administration to change its stance.
“We are trying our best to continue to talk to those people that we can talk to as part of a shared governance process. It is difficult. It is rocky, but we are trying,” Washington said.
The bargaining unit and the administration meet every two weeks and they are “working as quickly as we can” and “trying to be as transparent about that as we can. But it is a process, and it will take a while.”
“We would much rather be able to talk to everybody than to not be able to talk to members of the bargaining unit about this. But that is where we are,” she said. “It is by far not ideal … Hopefully we will get to a place where that is over, and we don’t have to do that anymore.”
Yatsko said she appreciated the responses to her concern at Senate Council, but in a follow-up email message with University Times on Jan. 31 said she is “not hopeful my concerns will be rapidly addressed.”
“It is disheartening to think of continuing the work without the dedicated members of the BPC,” she said. “I would consider ceasing my service to the Budget Policies committee if that is what is required to get these hardworking faculty members back on the board.”
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
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