Grad student unionization vote declared inconclusive


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

The Pitt graduate student union election results were announced on April 26.

By Neena Hagen, Senior Staff Writer

The Pitt Graduate Student Organizing Committee’s three-year unionization campaign led to a final vote last week meant to determine whether or not the university’s graduate student population wanted a union. But after the ballot count was revealed today, they’ll have to wait a little while longer.

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board determined Friday afternoon that last week’s election results were inconclusive, with 153 challenge votes yet to be considered. Altogether, 1,387 votes for or against unionization were counted on Friday. As organizers appeared to come up short in the ballot count — 675 to 712 — they huddled together, many in tears.

Hillary Lazar, a graduate sociology student and union organizer, read a statement on behalf of organizers, blaming the university for spreading anti-union propaganda to negatively influence the results.

“We believe the count today is due to the university’s misleading information and active attempt to obstruct the campaign and election, including pressuring graduate student workers into voting no.” Lazar said.

The University has openly contested Pitt graduate students’ organizers’ bid for a union election. After organizers petitioned for an election in 2017, Pitt hired Ballard Spahr, a law-firm that offers “union-avoidance training,” to argue that graduate students aren’t employees and therefore should not have the right to unionize. But the PLRB dismissed the University’s opposition in a March 7 ruling, granting Pitt graduate students the right to unionize.

Despite Pitt’s “disappointment” with the PLRB ruling, University spokesperson Joe Miksch affirmed Pitt’s support for its graduate students on Friday.

“No matter how you voted, the University remains committed to supporting you and your academic success,” Miksch said. “As we wait for the challenges to be resolved and the final vote count to be determined, we want to say thank you to all students who participated in this election process.”

Since the result was so close, PLRB administrator Dennis Bachy said he and other officials will  review the 153 challenge ballots — votes cast by individuals who weren’t on the PLRB’s list of eligible voters — that weren’t included in Friday’s tally and determine if they are eligible to be counted.

The challenge votes could either sway the election in favor of the union or re-affirm the current “no” from eligible voters. According to Bachy, it’s unclear when the final count will be revealed.

Both organizers and the university have five days to appeal to the election results if they noticed any foul play from the opposing side or the PLRB. Graduate student organizers declined to say whether they’d appeal the current tally, but said they’ll look into “potential unlawful actions taken by the university.”

After the count, organizers sent message of thanks to everyone who voted “yes” to the union as well as everyone who has supported organizers over the course of their nearly four-year-long battle.

“Close to 700 of us voted in favor of workplace democracy and ensuring fair working conditions and a voice at the table for all employees at Pitt,” Lazar said. “This fight isn’t over.”