Pitt faculty union, administration reach deal on COVID-19 protocols


TPN File Photo

Tyler Bickford, a professor in the English department, drops one of the first union cards at a kickoff event held by Pitt faculty union organizers in the William Pitt Union Ballroom in January 2018.

By Rebecca Johnson and Allison Radziwon

The United Steelworkers union reached a “memorandum of understanding” with Pitt regarding expanded health and safety protections for faculty, following allegations that the University didn’t consult the faculty union before removing its mask mandate in March. 

USW, which represents the newly-formed faculty union, said in a Wednesday news release that the MOU will go into effect immediately and that it offers more protections than Pitt’s current COVID-19 protocols. An MOU is a non-legally binding agreement that typically signals that two groups are willing to negotiate on a topic.

USW said the MOU also goes beyond requirements set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act by covering faculty with a broader range of health concerns as well as those living with medically at-risk family members.  

“Depending on the type of work they perform, these union members can request adjustments such as remote instruction and virtual office hours to safeguard their health and that of their loved ones,” the release said. 

USW filed an unfair labor practice charge against the University in March, alleging that it failed to consult faculty before making masks optional in campus buildings. Pitt didn’t alter its decision to drop the mask mandate following faculty outcry, which marked the union’s first public stance on a workplace issue. The union is now negotiating its first contract. 

“The University is pleased that the parties were able to work together and resolve the unfair labor practice charge,” a Pitt spokesperson said this week. 

Pitt’s current policy is to require masks indoors only when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies community spread as “high” in Allegheny County. Masks are optional if spread is medium or low. 

Tyler Bickford, an associate professor of English and a member of the union negotiating committee, said in the news release that the new COVID-19 measures from the MOU show why faculty worked to form a union

“When Pitt tried to implement a policy without seeking input from those most affected by it, we brought the administration to the table and bargained an agreement that addresses our concerns,” Bickford said. “As the pandemic continues, this agreement provides the flexibility we need to serve our campus community while keeping ourselves and our families safe.”