The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • April 12, 2024
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist • April 12, 2024

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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • April 12, 2024
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist • April 12, 2024

A guide to ongoing negotiations between Pitt’s administration, campus union efforts

Supporters+of+the+faculty+union+hold+signs+inside+of+the+William+Pitt+Union+to+protest+the+Board+of+Trustees+meeting+on+Feb.+24%2C+2023.
Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor
Supporters of the faculty union hold signs inside of the William Pitt Union to protest the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 24, 2023.

Amid continued negotiations with the Pitt administration for fair labor contracts, Pitt union organizations have already hosted several rallies this semester advocating for labor rights. 

The faculty union at Pitt is working with University administration to reach a fair settlement on the issue of a minimum salary for part-time workers. The graduate student union organization effort, meanwhile, is waiting to hear from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board on a date for their unionization election. 

Melinda Ciccocioppo, teaching associate professor and chair of the faculty union’s communication and action team, said the main goal of the union is to have more faculty voice in their working conditions. 

“We’ve come to a lot of agreements so far with the administration around things like job security and workload,” Ciccocioppo said. 

The faculty union is asking for a $60,000 salary floor for part-time Pitt faculty and raises that keep pace with inflation. They gave Gabel’s administration a proposal and are currently engaged in negotiations with the legal team. 

“We’ve exchanged proposals back and forth with the administration, and our proposal is built around Pitt’s stated policy about salary, which is that they want our pay to keep pace with inflation and want us to remain competitive with other institutions,” Ciccocioppo said. 

University Spokesperson Jared Stonesifer affirmed that Pitt administration is working with the faculty union on “various components of faculty compensation.”

“These discussions are ongoing and the administration looks forward to reaching an agreement with the union that is mutually beneficial for both parties. We are making progress every time we come to the table,” Stonesifer said. 

“For us, it’s not about setting a ceiling,” Ciccocioppo said. “It’s about setting a floor so we can raise people up, so everyone has a baseline pay and job security protections. There’s a lot of flexibility in terms of decision-making within individual units.”

The faculty union is asking for Gabel to include part-time faculty members in their discussion. 

“The administration has proposed excluding certain groups of faculty members like visiting titles, instructor titles. That does not even come close to the floor,” Ciccocioppo said. “Those folks do the same work as people with professor titles. They have advanced degrees and expertise, so there isn’t any reason to exclude those people, and $60,000 is an infinitely reasonable ask for a professional salary.”

Ciccocioppo claimed that Gabel previously noted that faculty and staff should be paid fairly and treated with respect.

“It seems like Chancellor Gabel wants these things [like the $60,000 salary floor] as much as we want these things. What we’re getting from her bargaining team is not this,” Ciccocioppo said. 

Ciccocioppo said the faculty union’s bargaining committee has done a lot of research looking at contracts with other universities and encourages all bargaining faculty members to join their email list. 

“We’re close to ratifying a contract where people will need to be ready to vote on that contract, which means that they have to sign a membership card,” Ciccocioppo said. “We want to make sure that as many people are signed up as possible and are ready for that vote.”

Graduate student faculty at Pitt are also in the process of organizing a union. As of Jan. 31, the GSU organization has filed for an election with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, which may legitimize their union after eight years’ effort

Alison Mahoney, a doctoral student in Pitt’s theater department and organizer with the unionization efforts, said this will be the second time a grad student unionization election will take place since 2016. 

“Grads lost the initial election [in 2019] by a really slim margin and actually appealed the results of that election to the Pennsylvania State Labor Board because of the Pitt administration basically acting illegally and engaging in illegal union-busting activities,” Mahoney said. 

According to previous reporting by The Pitt News, the union organization appealed the results of the 2019 election due to claims of a “coercive atmosphere” and “voter intimidation.” 

Mahoney added that “there were faculty members who coerced their grad students in their labs” and “there was a lot of misinformation that went out from the administration.”

“A lot of momentum was lost in the process of both appealing the original election results and then COVID,” Mahoney said. “People not being on campus made it really difficult to organize and meet with colleagues and talk to people about union organizing.”

Mahoney said the push for grad student unionization picked up in August 2023, when Pitt made changes to the graduate student faculty health care plan without informing the workers of these changes. 

“The Pitt administration just this year decided with absolutely no notice to change our health insurance and make it cover significantly less than it used to,” Mahoney said. “We didn’t find out about the changes to our health insurance until three weeks into the open enrollment period.”

Mahoney cited several specific health insurance changes made by the University, including a decrease in coverage for emergency care from 100% to 90% and an increase in copays for therapy visits from $5 to $30.

“Right now, [grad students] are really fired up about those changes to our health care, which were made completely without our input,” Mahoney said. “We don’t make enough money to cover something like [a surgery] and there was not a compensatory raise in stipends that would cover the out-of-pocket maximum for a new insurance plan.”

Stonesifer said Pitt implemented an Emergency Medical Assistance Fund in response to these concerns from graduate student faculty.

“We are always reviewing all the benefits we provide for quality of service and cost, including insurance,” Stonesifer said. “Last spring, the previous administration aligned the graduate student plans with the plan the rest of our students have.”

The graduate student union organization started handing out cards in October 2023, filed for an election on Jan. 31, and is now waiting to hear back from the PLRB on a set election date. 

Mahoney said they hope a union will allow graduate student faculty at Pitt to have a say in future changes to their insurance contracts and negotiate with the University for liveable wages. 

“It is a way to make going to grad school an actually sustainable and livable world decision for a lot of people,” Mahoney said. 

 

About the Contributors
Emma Hannan, Staff Writer
Abby Lipold, Assistant News Editor
Abby Lipold is the Assistant News Editor for the News Desk. She is an English Nonfiction Writing major and is pursuing a BPhil in International and Area Studies. She has been writing for The Pitt News since January 2022. You can contact Abby at [email protected].