PLRB denies hearing on Pitt faculty union


The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board will not hold a hearing on the Union of Pitt Faculty’s petition because the union did not gather enough cards for the proposed bargaining unit, according to a letter sent to legal representatives for Pitt and the United Steelworkers.

The letter, dated April 9 and signed by Nathan Bortner, secretary of PLRB, said the union failed to gather the support of the required 30 percent of the bargaining unit. The petition the union sent to the PLRB described the proposed bargaining unit as 3,500 Pitt faculty. The union was given 20 days from the date of the letter to file an exception with the PLRB.

This comes after the union submitted a petition in January with a proposed bargaining unit of approximately 3,500 faculty. USW supporters hailed this as a “milestone” moment.

The United Steelworkers released a statement April 18 claiming the University provided the PLRB with a “deliberately inflated” number of employees in its proposed bargaining unit.

A University spokeswoman pushed back on the USW’s claims in an emailed statement to the University Times:

“The United Steelworkers’ most recent claim — that the faculty count submitted to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board was deliberately inflated — is baseless and false,” the statement read.   

The USW said they plan to appeal this decision and claimed that the University could have inflated the number of eligible part-time faculty in its proposed bargaining unit sent to the PLRB.

“We planned to address this at the hearing. Now we’ll have to do it through the appeal process,” Tyler Bickford, an associate professor in the English department, said in the release.

Bickford said the USW worked from staff information provided in the most recent version of the University Factbook.

“Based on the university’s public disclosures, we filed authorization cards representing well over the minimum 30% showing of interest,” Bickford said in an email.

Bortner said that due to Pennsylvania law, he couldn’t disclose the exact number of cards the USW sent in.

USW representatives also declined to release the exact number of cards submitted in the petition but were confident there was a large enough “cushion” of cards over the required 30 percent.

The faculty union sent out an additional email memo Wednesday morning claiming that the PLRB told union representatives that the list of employees the University provided to the PLRB was “substantially larger than expected.” The University Times was not able to confirm this with the PLRB.

The union estimated that Pitt must have submitted more than the reported 3,080 non-medical faculty in the University factbook. They considered this a “typical anti-union tactic.”

“The administration continues to be so opaque about how many faculty are employed at the University that we do not yet know how many names are on their list,” the memo read. “Much less the specifics of which groups of faculty they’ve included.”

Today’s statement from the University continued to dispute the union’s assertions:

“To be clear: The University of Pittsburgh followed the PLRB’s process by submitting a required list of personnel who were on active appointments when the United Steelworkers filed their petition. Per the Steelworkers’ petition, this list included all full-time and part-time faculty members and librarians. It did not include faculty members from the School of Medicine.

“And as we have said all along: We will continue to follow the PLRB process, and we are committed to supporting Pitt faculty members regardless of how this issue evolves.”  

The University Times has made multiple attempts to gather the exact number of employees in Pitt’s proposed bargaining submitted to the PLRB. However, PLRB representatives declined to release the exact number, and requests for the exact number from Pitt administrators and Ballard Spahr, Pitt’s legal representatives, were not immediately answered.

University representatives also said they were working off a similar amount claimed in the USW petition.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.