By DONOVAN HARRELL
The Union of Pitt Faculty released an email on Nov. 18 outlining the next steps for the bargaining process and announcing a date for members of the bargaining unit to nominate representatives for their academic units.
Faculty in the bargaining unit can nominate and elect 77 people to form the union’s Council of Representatives, who will oversee negotiations and provide information about the negotiations to the faculty as they take place, according to the email
All faculty included in the bargaining unit are invited to a virtual nomination meeting at 3 p.m. Dec. 12. Register here to receive the Zoom link. During the meeting, any member of the bargaining unit can self-nominate or nominate one person for each position.
Approximately 3,300 Pitt faculty are in the bargaining unit and will be covered by any agreement reached between the United Steelworkers, the union representing the faculty, and the University. School of Medicine faculty and many in administrative positions are not covered. Find a full list of the positions covered and excluded here.
The Council of Representatives will elect 15 people from its ranks to form the bargaining committee. The group currently known as the organizing committee will become the Communication and Action Team (CAT). This group will facilitate communications between faculty and help faculty address any issue they may have in their departments. The group also will “mobilize faculty in support of their bargaining committee’s proposals in negotiations,” according to the email.
The bargaining committee will create proposals and meet with University administrators to negotiate the terms of the labor contract. USW staff also will work with the representatives during the negotiations.
Members of the Council of Representatives or other faculty can work with the bargaining committee if their expertise is relevant to the topics of the negotiation.
When the bargaining committee decides on the proposed terms for topics being negotiated, the language goes to the Council of Representatives for approval.
“That way the larger council can exercise oversight throughout the negotiations, convey feedback and ideas from the faculty to their bargaining committee, and help the CAT keep the faculty in the loop,” the email said.
When the bargaining committee and University administrators agree on the topics being negotiated, union members will vote whether to ratify the tentative agreement. The agreement becomes a contract if a majority of union members vote to approve it. Only union members who have signed membership cards are eligible to vote.
According to the email, the rationale behind this structure was to maximize representation of all ranks in all the schools and campuses and to keep the structure to a size that will be effective and efficient.
This announcement comes as Pitt leaders try to figure out how the union will affect the University and its shared governance mechanisms.
During the Nov. 5 Senate Council meeting, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher thanked faculty for their participation in the election and said the outcome — an overwhelming majority of Pitt faculty voted to unionize — does not change Pitt’s commitment to faculty.
“I wanted to remind everyone what hasn’t changed, and that’s our commitment to working together with all faculty, all students and all staff on how we support and operate this University,” Gallagher said.
He added that it’s still unclear how the bargaining process will affect shared governance on campus. The United Steelworkers, who are representing the union, are in the process of developing a bargaining committee that will sit down and negotiate a bargaining contract with Pitt leaders.
“We just need to commit ourselves to work together throughout this process in good faith and transparency,” Gallagher said. “And that will be our position going forward.”
At Senate Council, President Robin Kear said she’s been criticized by some at the University about her previous statements on the union election. Responses she’s received include that the remarks had a “somewhat pessimistic tone” and “conveyed uncertainty.”
At the Nov. 5 Faculty Assembly Among, Kear gave a report about what the union might mean for shared governance and said there is uncertainty on how the union will impact the Budget Policies and Faculty Affairs committees and other processes in Senate Council.
“I ask you, should I not be honest with you about the uncertainty that I am seeing, hearing and experiencing?” Kear said. “When I have questions, and I receive questions that did not have answers, that is uncertainty.
“We are all in a new environment here. As I am elected to represent all faculty, I feel that it is my responsibility to examine and present my fairest interpretation of what will be affecting our work here. Since last week, I have been called dismissive and we the officers have been called a disgrace.”
She went on to say, “I am reminded that in civil discourse, and in a pluralistic society, there are multiple perspectives on the truth, and we need to work through them and be willing to work through them. I think that we should all consistently remind ourselves of that, especially in these immediate years to come.”
Linda Tashbook, chair of the Benefits and Welfare committee, thanked Kear for her report at Faculty Assembly.
“I just wanted to tell you that I did not think you sounded dismissive at all at the Faculty Assembly,” Tashbook said. “And I especially wanted to thank you for your very objective and pleasant presentation — not just the presentation, but helpful explanations at the Benefits and Welfare Committee when we had a number of questions about what might happen when there is a collective bargaining agreement in place.”
Almost everyone agrees this won’t be a quick process. Estimates from several sources say that it could take one to two years before a collective bargaining agreement is signed.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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