Senate Council discusses freeze on policies concerning bargaining items


Zoom screenshot

Thursday’s Senate Council meeting.

By James Paul, Staff Writer

Any new policy changes concerning wages, hours and the terms and conditions of employment will only apply to those not represented by the faculty union, Senate Council President Robin Kear said. 

At the Senate Council meeting on Thursday afternoon on Zoom and in person in Posvar Hall, Kear said the union has taken issue with the University allegedly making policy changes on topics that are currently being negotiated in the contract. Kear — nor anyone else in the meeting — did not make clear if the union has actually taken legal action. Though, according to Kear, all new policy changes made concerning items of bargaining will not apply to faculty represented by the union.

Kear said she and other Senate Council leaders met with leaders from the faculty union on Monday to discuss the policy process. Kear said the union asked the Senate to “negotiate directly with the bargaining committee for policy in the areas of mandatory subjects of collective bargaining.”

“There are new legal limits to how some of those topics can be implemented,” Kear said. “There are still unanswered questions. I do not think this means that shared governance work stops — it means that it changes. If we are truly being representative of all faculty, it does include those in the bargaining unit, and we should continue talking about what is important.”

Kear did not make clear what the specific legal limitations are, nor did she address how they are being enforced. 

Even though the University will now have to restrict the implementation of policy changes, Kear encouraged members of the administration present at the meeting to continue voting on policy changes. 

“The University Senate administration should continue moving University policy forward for medical school faculty, those considered management staff and students and postdocs,” Kear said.

Kear referenced the recently passed tuition exchange policy, which she said will now only apply to those not represented by the union. The policy is a reciprocal scholarship program that allows children of Pitt faculty and staff to apply for competitive scholarships to other participating member institutions, according to Pitt’s financial aid website.

Additionally, Kear said an academic freedom resolution which passed in the Senate earlier in November, was passed onto Provost Ann Cudd, who said she “cannot legally work with bargaining members on this resolution.”

“Regarding the academic freedom resolution from earlier in November, I did pass it on to the provost and we talked through what can be done at this time,” Kear said, “as academic freedom is the subject of bargaining. The provost has stated that she cannot legally work with bargaining unit members on this resolution.”

Chris Bonneau, an executive member of the Senate committee, said until United Steel Workers, the company representing the Pitt faculty union, “reconsiders their stance [on taking legal action against the University],” policies relating to issues under the mandatory sections of bargaining cannot be updated or implemented, only discussed.

“We would love to be able to advance policies that benefit all faculty,” Bonneau said. “We are prohibited from doing that. And so, well, to be fair, we are prohibited from making those agreements and working cooperatively and collaboratively with the administration.”

Later, when voting on a policy concerning the reimbursement of moving expenses to newly hired faculty, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher requested all administrators present to abstain. Gallagher said the policy may possibly fall under the purview of the mandatory subjects of bargaining.

“This is one of those items that would be a potential mandatory subject of bargaining,” Gallagher said. “We don’t want to run afoul of that by engaging with bargaining unit faculty who would be part of this process.”

The Senate Council approved the policy, which passed at last week’s faculty assembly meeting, with 31 votes in its favor and nine abstentions. 

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

“It provides a definitional landscape for describing construction maintenance processes, and comprehensively delineates responsibility for construction maintenance at Pitt, and it states the requirements for capital budgets and provides appropriate safety referenced safety standards,” Salcido said.

The policy passed with 38 votes in its favor and three abstentions.

In his opening remarks, Gallagher acknowledged several Pitt community members who received national awards. He congratulated Joseph Glorioso and Ronald Montelaro, both professors of microbiology, for being admitted into the National Academy of Inventors. Additionally, he congratulated Alex Firestine, a senior finance, accounting and business information systems triple major, who received the 2024 George J. Mitchel Scholarship.

Gallagher said going into flu season, he hopes members of the Pitt community will stay aware of the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and the flu and protect themselves accordingly.

“We continue to emphasize vaccination, including flu vaccines,” Gallagher said. “All that we did the last couple of years still works, so please take whatever precautions.”