Grad union organizers deliver broken heart to Chancellor Gallagher


Rachhana Baliga | Staff Photographer

Graduate student union organizers delivered a broken heart for Valentine’s Day to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher on Friday afternoon, in a demonstration to raise awareness for their ongoing campaign to establish a graduate student union.

By Jon Moss and Benjamin Nigrosh

Grad union organizers delivered a Valentine’s Day gift, with a twist, to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher on Friday afternoon.

Carrying a large, wooden broken heart bearing a letter to the chancellor, organizers led what they called their “Valentine’s Day Action” in a demonstration to raise awareness for their ongoing campaign to establish a graduate student union.

According to grad union organizer Pat Healy, the demonstration was not a protest. That kind of language, he said, bears the idea of negativity towards the University that they do not have.

“It’s about our love for the University, and our frustration that the University doesn’t seem to love us back,” Healy said. ‘We want to send a message to the Pitt administration that they still have a chance to be impartial, and we hope they will take that chance.”

The graduate student unionization effort kicked off in 2016, promising higher wages, increased benefits, greater transparency and increased protections against discrimination and harassment. After union organizers won a legal battle to be officially considered employees, students voted against unionization last April 712-675, a loss of 37 votes. Following an appeal from union organizers, a representative from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board issued a proposed ruling last September ordering a new election and declaring that Pitt commited three unfair labor practices.

But Pitt filed an exception several weeks later, disappointing organizers who hoped to hold the second election this semester. The three-person PLRB is now reviewing the case to make a final determination.

University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said the University maintains that it did nothing wrong in the April election.

“We continue to believe that the results of the graduate student election should be upheld by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board,” Zwick said in an email.

Friday’s event began on the patio of Schenley Plaza, where organizers spoke to a crowd of fellow students about their efforts for unionization.

Mark, an economics grad student who asked to be identified only by his first name, said he and his fellow grad students feel compelled to unionize because they feel heartbroken by the University’s actions. This heartbreak, Mark said, comes from their simultaneous love for the University and disappointment in it.

“The disappointment comes from the people who know better,” Mark said. “Our chancellor is a smart man. He knows that dozens of other universities have graduate unions, and at those universities those graduate unions help the scholastic commission. But instead of respect, we get ridiculous lawsuits, we get fear-mongering, we get cheating, and we get pathetic delays. When we give love, we get disappointment.”

While still at Schenley Plaza, theater arts PhD candidate Shelby Brewster read the letter to Chancellor Gallagher painted onto the broken heart by student organizers.

“You broke our heart when you opposed our employee status in 2018,” Brewster read. “You broke our heart when you raised insurance costs for grads with dependents. Think of the children. You broke our heart when you cheated in the election last year. And you continue to break our heart as you delay, delay, delay to prevent us from holding a fair election.”

Once inside the Cathedral, student organizers sang one of two songs they wrote for the event, a parody of Pitt’s Alma Mater.

“Alma Mater, union busters. Cheating, lying, acting uncouth. To quote the PLRB officer, ‘Substantial departures from the truth,’” the students sang. “Million in Ballard Spahr union avoidance fees. Don’t you know Pitt runs on grads?”

The second song, “Solidarity Forever,” is a union anthem with some lyrics modified for the grad union campaign.

“It is we who teach the courses, it is we who grade the tests, it is we who run experiments with subjects and pipettes,” the students sang. “And now we demand of Gallagher fair treatment and respect, the union makes us strong.”