SGB votes to not sign onto statement supporting faculty unionization

Student+Government+Board+at+its+weekly+meeting+in+Nordy%E2%80%99s+Place.

Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

Student Government Board at its weekly meeting in Nordy’s Place.

By Kiera Ledermann, Staff Writer

Pitt Student Government Board members were at odds at their Tuesday evening meeting over whether to formally encourage Pitt’s faculty to vote in favor of unionization.

During the first open floor of the night, Ryan Yeager, the president of the College of General Studies Student Government, encouraged SGB members to sign onto a joint statement written by the Graduate and Professional Student Government and CGSSG in support of the Pitt Faculty Union.

The University is in the midst of a multi-year effort to unionize roughly 3,000 faculty members. Pitt professors and researchers from all campuses have until Oct. 12 to cast their ballot on whether they want to form a faculty union with the United Steelworkers. Along with faculty unionization, SGB discussed changes to courses in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, as well as plans for Mental Health Awareness Month.

Yeager said that it is not enough to be neutral toward faculty unionization due to Pitt’s attempts to “interfere” with union organizing. Pitt has paid more than $2 million to “union avoidance” firm Ballard Spahr since 2016, when the graduate and faculty union campaigns launched.

“It’s not about just not interfering,” Yeager said. “Pitt has already interfered. Pitt has already spent millions of dollars on union busting law firms. So to say at this point not to interfere is not enough of a stance.”

Pitt has said in the past that it “works with outside counsel for representation on a wide variety of legal matters.”

Caleb Shook, vice chair of SGB’s community and governmental relations committee, said he “echoed” Yeager’s call for SGB to sign the statement, because he wants to support untenured lecturers, adjunct professors and instructors.

“I really encourage you to vote for those people who are in our classrooms all the time, who are doing those teachings, who are giving our students the experience of learning,” Shook said. “More than that, it’s not just about better treatment for our faculty, it’s also about better treatment for our students.”

Dominic Victoria, the chair of the community and governmental relations committee, also voiced his support for SGB to sign the statement in support of the faculty union.

“Pittsburgh is a union town, now and forever, and efforts like these not only benefit faculty and undergrad students, but our community,” Victoria said.

The board ultimately voted against signing onto the statement by a 3-4 vote, with one abstention. Caroline Goodwin, Aboli Kesbhat, Matt Moore and Ryan Murphy voted against signing on, while Danielle Floyd, Daniel Temmallo and Nikhita Chakraborty voted in favor. Brennan Conway abstained. It appeared that President Harshitha Ramanan did not vote in favor or against, nor abstained.

During the third open floor of the night, Conway explained his abstention to signing onto the statement. Conway said he disagrees with urging faculty to vote for a specific side.

“I unequivocally support the faculty’s right to unionize and I disapprove of the University’s response to this unionization,” Conway said. “So while I personally support the statement in almost its entirety, I did not feel it was appropriate to urge faculty to vote one way or another.”

Goodwin also explained her disagreement with the statement’s wording.

“I want to say that, at least from my point of view, a vote for ‘no’ on this statement is not a vote against unionization,” Goodwin said. “My vote against the statement is more specifics within the wording of it, not unionization.”

Yeager said in a statement to The Pitt News after the meeting that he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the results of the vote.

“The Student Government Board had an opportunity tonight to push back against Pitt’s union-busting tactics and stand in support of Pitt faculty and students and the board embarrassed themselves by not only voting ‘no,’ but not even reading the statement to the public,” Yeager said.

Yeager added that voting against signing onto the statement “demonstrates the belief most students on this campus already have: SGB is a mouthpiece for high-ranking University officials instead of an advocate to the people at this University who need them the most. Those who remain neutral in situations of injustice have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Yeager also said CGSSG will continue to support faculty unionization efforts alongside GPSG. 

SGB members provided updates on various initiatives during Tuesday’s meeting.

Kesbhat, SGB’s vice president of operations, said she is working on establishing more gender neutral bathrooms in the Hillman Library. She said she also attended the LGBTQIA+ task force’s steering committee meeting last week.

“I just want to make it clear that we will not give up on this center, and we will not let admin forget about it,” Kesbhat said. “This mission will certainly pave the way for making spaces for all students and communities.”

Floyd, SGB’s vice president of initiatives, said she is working with the Campus-Wellbeing Task Force to develop methods of outreach to the student body to promote [email protected]a website students can use to find resources for their physical, financial and social wellbeing.

[email protected] is a new useful resource to help students improve and maintain and maximize their well-being while at Pitt,” Floyd said. “Due to our campus being so large, there is often a disconnect between students and connecting them to resources and people who want help.”

Floyd also encouraged students to attend Mental Health Awareness Month programs throughout October.

“The main point of Mental Health Awareness Month is to send a University-wide message to students encouraging dialogue about mental health, mental illness and the stigma surrounding mental illness,” Floyd said.

Julia Le stepped down as chair of the diversity and inclusion committee and nominated Vice Chair Bhuvitha Chagantipati as a replacement, who the board approved unanimously.

Temmallo and Moore said they attended the first Dietrich School Undergraduate Council meeting. At the meeting, the Life Sciences certificate was terminated, the Chinese and Japanese majors were modified and a new electronic beat-making and song writing music course was announced.

Victoria said that during the third CGR meeting of the semester, the committee discussed sending a survey to off-campus students to gather data on renting conditions in Oakland. 

Ramanan concluded the meeting by congratulating off-campus students on reaching a 90% vaccination rate and informing students about free flu shots offered at the Student Health Center.

“I once again want to congratulate everyone on doing their part to keep the community safe by getting vaccinated and uploading their vaccination status. As flu season is upon us, all students can get a free flu shot at the student health center,” Ramanan said. “I highly encourage everyone to do so, especially with all of us still navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Allocations

The allocations committee received five requests for a total of $4,219.28. The committee approved $4,135.31. No requests required board approval.

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