Unionization efforts still awaiting PLRB decisions


The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board is still determining the fates of the Pitt graduate student and faculty union efforts.

Beth Ussery, an organizer for United Steelworkers, which is representing both unionization efforts, said that the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of planned oral arguments that were to be May 28 in a dispute over the graduate student union election last year.

Instead, Ussery said, the PLRB will rely on briefs previously filed by the USW and Pitt.

The graduate student union is still pushing for a new election after it narrowly lost an election in April 2019 with 675 votes in favor of the union and 712 votes against it.

The union later filed exceptions, claiming that the University used unfair labor practices during the election. A PLRB hearing examiner sided with the union in a decision posted last fall, then Pitt’s legal representatives, Ballard Spahr, filed exceptions to that decision. In February, a three-person PLRB panel ordered oral arguments in the case — which were to take place May 28 — to decide two specific issues:

  • If the University has the burden to prove that unfair practices, if committed, did not materially affect the outcome of the election.

  • Whether the PLRB should cease its practice of permitting watchers at elections from openly keeping a list of employees who voted. (The union organizers had argued that this practice was intimidating to voters.)

Theresa Elliott, deputy communications director for the PA Department of Labor & Industry, said in an email that there is no concrete timeline for when the decision will be made.  

The faculty union is in a similar position and is waiting for the PLRB’s hearing examiner to make a decision based on hearings held in December 2019. The main issue still up for debate is how large the proposed bargaining unit size should be. 

The economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have introduced new concerns for faculty union organizers who fear the University may announce job cuts soon, particularly of part-time or adjunct faculty. Pitt has not announced any job cuts.

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


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