Upcoming Pitt faculty union vote follows national trend


After a years-long campaign, University of Pittsburgh faculty will finally get to vote on if they want to form a union in an election scheduled for Aug. 27 to Oct. 12.

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) issued the order on July 16. About 3,000 eligible voters will be sent a letter on Aug. 27 containing an official ballot. They will have to return their ballots to the PLRB’s Harrisburg office by Oct. 12. The vote count will start at 10 a.m. Oct. 19 and end on Oct. 21 if necessary, according to the order.

The move to unionize follows a national trend that saw 118 new faculty bargaining units, composed of more than 36,000 faculty members, form between 2013 and 2019 in the U.S., according to a study by Hunter College’s National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions. Fifty of those were at public institutions, which joined the 565 public sector faculty bargaining units established prior to 2013 — many of which are for adjunct faculty only.

If Pitt faculty members approve the union, they would be represented by the United Steelworkers. The USW, a national organization based in Pittsburgh, has successfully organized adjunct faculty at Point Park and Robert Morris universities, and was involved in a campaign at Duquesne that ultimately was denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals because of the school’s status as a religious institution. Pitt would be one of the union’s largest forays into higher education.

The PLRB announcement follows a multi-year legal dispute between the University’s legal representatives, the Philadelphia-based law firm Ballard Spahr, and the USW over the size of the proposed bargaining unit.

Most recently, the PLRB ordered the University on April 16 to submit a list of employees eligible to participate in a union vote. The order also defined the job positions eligible to vote, which include full-time and regular part-time tenure-stream and non-tenure-stream faculty and librarians in the provost area, Health Sciences schools, and School of Law

The order said the School of Medicine can form a separate bargaining unit and vote separately. The proposed bargaining unit also excludes Pitt employees in supervisory or managerial positions, including department and division chairs, deans and provosts.

The Steelworkers have repeatedly criticized the University for using “union-busting” tactics, including “padding” the list of employees in the proposed bargaining unit with people who are ineligible to vote. Pitt has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing during the unionization effort.

Lu-In Wang, vice provost for faculty affairs, said in a statement: “The University has always been clear that the question of faculty unionization is a decision for faculty members to make. We will continue to keep community members updated about the election procedures established by the PLRB to help to ensure all faculty members have the information they need to vote.

“This is a consequential choice, and while the University has no position on what the outcome should be, we encourage voters to consider the matter seriously and to participate.” 

The University and the Pitt Faculty Organizing Committee each have websites about the faculty election.

During the graduate student union election in 2019, the University’s information website definitely took at stand against unionization, but the new website is mostly basic information about the election. Not surprisingly, the Union of Pitt Faculty website takes a much stronger stand in support of the union.

Tyler Bickford, a faculty union advocate and associate professor in the English department, said in a USW statement that he’s glad the faculty will have a chance to vote after a lengthy legal dispute.

“It’s been a long road, but I am thankful that we will finally have the chance to make our voices heard,” Bickford said in a USW statement. “A vote for a union is a vote to create a better university. Gaining a voice will provide faculty members with greater job security, improve educational outcomes, promote better research and increase transparency across the university system. It’s a win-win.”

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905. Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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