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Faculty Assembly discusses alleged unfair labor practice charge against administration, communication between union and faculty

Faculty Assembly President Robin Kear said that the faculty union is moving to file an unfair labor practice charge against the University at a recent Assembly meeting. Kear said the potential charge has had a “chilling effect on administrators’ participation” in policy discussions.

“At the last Senate Council, the voting administrators on the Senate Council, which are nine, did not vote on a policy recommendation,” Kear said. “They didn’t abstain. They didn’t vote no. They just did not participate, which is a first. The chancellor’s appointees to the faculty affairs committee are no longer attending that meeting. The usual work of that particular committee is at a standstill.”

The Faculty Assembly held a meeting on Wednesday afternoon both in person in room 2700 of Posvar Hall and over Zoom to discuss the union’s lack of communication with the Faculty Assembly. Kear alleged that the union threatened the University with an unfair labor practice charge, which she said has put the work of several committees at a standstill. 

Several faculty members in the School of Medicine, which is excluded from the union, criticized the union’s alleged labor charge, in addition to criticizing Kear and other senate officers for a lack of communication throughout the contract negotiations. 

According to Kear, policy changes made during several shared governance meetings either concerned decommissioned policies that had no replacement or policies made irrelevant by new Pennsylvania state legislature. She said prior to a policy’s decommissioning, there is a 28-day window for the Pitt community to submit feedback. 

“It is unusual for a union to impede shared governance in this manner,” Kear said. “At most academic institutions, the two bodies coexist, sometimes easily, sometimes uneasily. Sometimes there’s a pendulum of cooperation between the bodies. The union could lift the threat of unfair labor practice charges related to shared governance and could be seeking to chart a path out of this standstill with us.”

In an interview with The Pitt News, Melinda Ciccocioppo, the chair of the union’s communication and action team, said the union does not plan to take any immediate action to file an unfair labor practice charge against Pitt. Ciccocioppo, who was not at the Faculty Assembly, said as long as the University “complies with the law,” the union will not file a charge.

“If they comply with the law, and are not engaging in illegal activities, then that’s fine,” Ciccocioppo said. “But again, there is a law, right, and we all have to follow the law. And so our position is that we would like the administration to comply with the law.”

Ciccocioppo gave no comment on Kear’s defense of recent policy changes.

At the meeting, Carey Balaban, a professor in the school of medicine, said the perceived threat of an unfair labor practice charge has frozen the administration’s policy-making processes.

Balaban said the School of Medicine is solely represented through shared governance and members of the school now seem to be “curtailed by legal action by the bargaining committee.”

“A large number of faculty who take part in shared governance are not part of your bargaining unit because we’re in the School of Medicine or the School of Health Sciences,” Balaban said. “Are we considered to be faculty? Do you consider us to be part of administration or do you consider us to be irrelevant?”

Abbe De Vallejo, an associate professor of pediatrics, criticized union leadership for lack of communication to the rest of the assembly regarding the ongoing contract negotiations with the union’s bargaining committee.

“I cannot emphasize the fact that the School of Medicine faculty comprises more than all of the bargaining unit combined, and we are all affected by whatever the contract is,” Vallejo said. “So please talk to us. Talk to us.”

In response to De Vallejo’s concern, Kear said she hopes “better communication” between leadership groups in the assembly and the union will allow for more transparency regarding contract negotiations. 

“I do feel that the chilling effect [of the labor practice charge] has unintentional consequences, that it doesn’t just relate to mandatory subjects, that it bleeds over into other things,” Kear said. 

Ciccocioppo told The Pitt News that the recent freeze in administration policy discussions is independent of the union and something the union has no control over. 

In response to Ciccocioppo’s criticisms, Kear told the Pitt News that said “actions speak louder than words,” and reaffirmed her claim that the union has made a “threat of unfair labor practice charges” to file an unfair labor charge.

“I am heartened to hear that they want a productive relationship, and actions speak louder than words,” Kear said. “We hope these words indicate a plan to alter recent actions, which has been very adversarial to shared governance.”

Kear said she, along with three other senate officers, will meet with three union chairs over Zoom on Monday. She said the senate officers are “looking for clarity and communication” through these discussions. Ciccocioppo will be presenting at the meeting and said she hopes the Faculty Assembly and the union will “be able to find a way to work together.”

The Assembly also discussed the management of University grounds draft policies, which David Salcido, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, presented. Salcido said the policies allocate ground maintenance responsibilities to the various departments.

“The policy is big and complicated because the management of our facilities and our grounds is big and complicated,” Salcido said. “And luckily we have competent people to do that. And luckily we have a shared governance input into that process.

The policy passed with 47 votes in favor.

Linda Tashbook, an adjunct professor of law and the chair of the senate’s benefits and welfare committee, introduced a policy that “establishes the framework” for the reimbursement of moving expenses to be paid to Pitt faculty new hires.

Tashbook said the relocation benefit is only available to individuals who are accepting full-time employment and who agreed to work in that job for at least one year. 

“The chain responsibility for handling relocation reimbursements begins with the hiring unit that opts to either make the relocation reimbursement available or not,” Tashbook said. “And that hiring unit is responsible for funding. It’s not as if there’s some general university fund relocation. Relocation comes from the hiring unit.”

The policy passed with 46 votes in favor.

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that Carey Balaban, not Gary Kohanbash, said the perceived threat of an unfair labor practice charge has frozen the administration’s policy-making processes. It was also updated to clarify that Abbe De Vallejo criticized union leadership, not chairs of the Faculty Assembly, for lack of communication. 

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