Faculty members introduce union push

A Pitt professor has publicly announced that University faculty will begin a campaign to organize a faculty union.

After gauging faculty interest, William Haywood Carey, lead organizer of the campaign and United Steelworkers employee, said the committee will direct faculty members to send union authorization cards to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Once the PLRB receives enough cards, they will send ballots to every eligible faculty member.

If more than 50 percent of eligible faculty members vote for a union, the process of forming a union will begin.

The union will include faculty of all ranks, including adjunct and visiting professors. The campaign also includes the faculty of Pitt’s four branch campuses.

University spokesperson, Ken Service said Thursday night the University had no comment on the faculty union.

On Thursday afternoon, Pitt professor Robin Clarke made the announcement at the Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement awards ceremony, where she was receiving the award. The organizing committee for the union made the decision to announce their campaign five days ago when Clarke found out she would receive the award.

“The University is not, at it’s heart, a business. It is a social, community enterprise,” said Clarke, a professor in Pitt’s English department and core organizer of the union. “I’m really excited at the prospect of having solidarity across all ranks.”

Clarke and four other members of the committee would not release how many people were on the committee.

Clarke said the campaign is affiliated with United Steelworkers, a union organizer that has worked with several other universities in the area, including Robert Morris, Duquesne and Point Park.

According to Jason Beery, a part-time Pitt instructor and member of the organizing committee, the committee will send out a press release announcing the campaign next week, in honor of Campus Equity week, an annual event to bring awareness to unfair conditions for contingent faculty nationally.

Last fall, an undisclosed number of professors formed an organizing committee to discuss a possible union, according to Joshua Zelesnick, a visiting lecturer at Pitt and member of the organizing committee. The organizing committee began reaching out to other faculty members last spring to discuss their concerns and improvements.

Beery said the committee cannot release how many faculty members are involved in the campaign already.

According to Paul Elliott Johnson, assistant professor and member of the organizing committee for the union, faculty members are expressing three main concerns, job security, transparency in decision making and academic democracy.

Carey said the discovery process will continue until the faculty is ready to vote on forming a union.

“The vote will take place when the faculty is ready. The whole campaign is up to the faculty,” Carey said.

Carey said there was no definitive way to determine when the faculty was ready, and that there was no way to put a “one size fits all model” on the campaign. Rather, they will proceed based on faculty input.

Clarke said she does not expect any backlash from the University.

Clarke has been waiting to make this announcement for quite some time. Tonight, she said, the time finally “felt right.”

“The longer you talk about it, the more engaged people become,” Clarke said. “Enough of the people who weren’t ready to speak up are speaking up now.”

In a July 24 interview with The Pitt News, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said while unions are free to organize, they usually do not do so because they feel the administration isn’t serving their interests.

“I certainly hope is that’s not the case here, we’re trying to work on these things here, and I hope that faculty feel that we’re willing to work with them,” Gallagher said. “But if it’s being done because they don’t feel like they’re being listened to, that would be a concern to me because we certainly try to do everything we can.”