“Truly a historic day”: Organizers file for Pitt staff union election


Image courtesy of United Steelworkers

Members of the Pitt faculty union and United Steelworkers at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg on Monday.

By Jack Troy, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt staff are on the path to becoming Pennsylvania’s largest public sector workforce to unionize in decades after organizers submitted enough signatures to the state labor board to trigger a vote. 

Representatives from the United Steelworkers and staff organizing committee joined other labor proponents in Harrisburg on Monday afternoon as part of a “union organizing week” press conference, where lab manager Jennifer Goeckeler-Fried spoke. 

“This is truly a historic day,” Goeckeler-Fried said. “We support the faculty, we support the students and today, we’ve come together to support each other by forming our union.”

The USW represents roughly 3,000 Pitt faculty across five campuses, who are more than a year deep into negotiations with administration for a first contract. If a simple majority of staff members vote in favor of unionization in the upcoming election, they would also be represented by the USW. 

Pitt reports that it employs more than 8,000 staff members. Several hundred cleaning and maintenance staff are already represented by Service Employees International Union 32BJ, while Pitt Police have their own labor association. As with any bargaining unit, managers will not be included, but this still leaves thousands of advisers, researchers, administrative professionals and other workers eligible to vote. 

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board must receive cards from at least 30% of a proposed bargaining unit to authorize an election. Organizers began collecting union cards in September 2021, pitching collective bargaining as the path to improved pay, advancement opportunities, health care and parking availability.

The USW have not released the exact number of union cards signed, but Dylan Nagy, a staff union organizer, told The Pitt News in February that the committee intended to overshoot the 30% threshold before filing. 

By petitioning the PLRB, organizers have initiated a process to determine the details of the election that will likely take months. 

“Within five weeks of the filing, the PLRB will begin discussions with the USW and the University to determine which staff members belong in the bargaining unit and to establish a date for the election,” USW Assistant Director of Organizing Mariana Padias said. 

Vice Chancellor for Human Resources James Gallagher repeated past comments on the unionization efforts. 

“We have a long history of working effectively with unions and respect the right of our employees to decide whether or not to choose a union,” Gallagher said. “We strongly believe that the University of Pittsburgh provides an excellent workplace and is guided by a foundational model of shared governance, which is predicated on input from all constituents, including our staff.”

The University has also maintained a unionization “information hub” for staff members with links to frequently asked questions and the perks of working at Pitt. 

Union organizers can count on the backing of state representatives Dan Miller and Jason Dawkins, who held the presser in part to discuss a series of labor-friendly bills that recently passed the house. 

“We all love Pitt. We all love our [state-related universities],” Miller said. “Here’s the message though — not one dime should be going into union-busting activity if you’re coming to us.”

Goeckeler-Fried expressed concern that Pitt may stand in the way of staff unionization, referencing nearly $3 million in spending on “union avoidance law firms” since 2016. She also alluded to the 2019 graduate student union election, when 34 chemical engineering students received an email from their department chair implying that Pitt could track who voted. The PLRB later ruled that this message amounted to voter intimidation but upheld the result against unionization. 

“They’re doing it again with us as we work to form our union,” Goeckeler-Fried said. “And therefore we’re calling on you, our supporters and our elected representatives, to stand with Pitt staff as we exercise our legal right to organize.”