Presentation on faculty union relates problems confronting adjuncts and contract workers

Representatives of the Union of Pitt Faculty presented testimony of what a union would mean for them and the University community at the Sept. 4 Faculty Assembly meeting.

The three representatives shared their struggles with navigating many topics from pay to general job insecurity.

In his opening remarks, Carl Redwood, an adjunct faculty member in the School of Social Work for more than 25 years, said one of the main issues adjunct faculty face is a lack of pay. He said he’s only received a raise three times in the time he’s worked for Pitt.

Another element, he added, is the uncertainty of the positions since they are contract-based.

“Usually I don't receive an offer to teach for the term (until) two to three weeks before the term starts.” Redwood said. "And that’s like a real problem if … you have to rely on it. Teaching is something I really like to do, so I have just been hanging in there for the past 25 plus years.”

He also explained that his Pitt ID expires at the end of each term and that he usually has to wait three weeks into the next semester to have access to it again.

Adjunct faculty in the School of Social Work need a larger shared space to work out of as well, Redford said.

“As adjunct faculty, we are the lowest priority,” Redwood said. “The union will allow all of us to work together: adjuncts, part-time, non-tenure stream and tenured faculty, to focus around creating the best teaching positions in all of our classrooms. The union also is the way for adjunct faculty members and the work of adjunct faculty members to be respected.”

Lauren Collister, director of the Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing with the University Library System, told the Assembly that she has been on multiple one-year visiting librarian contracts with the University since 2015.

“That's not what those contracts are for,” Collister said. “Those are supposed to be for one-year actual visitors, not somebody who is intended to be the director of a strategically important unit on campus.”

She said her contract expires on Sept. 30, and as of Sept. 4, she has not received word on whether or not she’ll be rehired.

“How am I supposed to plan?” Collister said. “How am I supposed to work with you all not really being sure if I will be here on October 1? So, sitting here today in front of this trusted body of my colleagues, I feel a great amount of fear. Yet, I am here talking to this trusted group about these issues, hoping that I can speak for countless others in similar situations, some of whom may be in the room with you today.”

She said a faculty union would allow faculty to work together to make contract processes and procedures clearer and more consistent. It also would allow faculty to speak freely about their issues without fear of losing future employment.

“If I could know what my terms of renewal are and when they will come, then I can plan. Not a contingency plan if I don't get my contract back in time for October 1, or not a plan for dealing with the anxiety I feel every September. So, the opportunity I see in the faculty union is for increased wages, more solidarity of our colleagues working together, but also for transparency and stability.”

Tyler Bickford, director of graduate studies in the English Department and secretary for the Budget Policies Committee, provided the Assembly with statistics from gender equity reports to help bolster his case for unionization. He said issues like gender equity are “bread and butter” issues for unions.

According to the 2017 Pitt report Economic Status of Women Faculty at Pitt: 2015-2016, the ratio of women’s to men’s salary among all faculty is 79 percent. Citing this statistic, Bickford said men are “dramatically overrepresented” in high ranks and higher-paying units and women are “dramatically overrepresented” in the low ranks and low-paying units.

He said he doesn’t want Pitt to “entrench” this system, because it creates problems for shared governance and representation.

“And I'd say that if we care about gender salary equity and if we care about the composition of the faculty by gender, then the most straightforward way to address that 79 percent number is to pay the bottom ranks and the teaching ranks in the lowest paid units,” Bickford said. “And that's one of the things, as a union, we'd fight for.”

In the Q&A period following the opening remarks, Faculty Assembly members asked the representatives why the United Steel Workers union was chosen as the partner for the Union of Pitt Faculty; other examples of schools or aspirational schools to compare Pitt to; how the union organization process works and more.

Jay W. Sukits, an assembly member and clinical assistant professor of business administration told the union presenters that they needed to be careful with citing statistics since different schools treat non-tenure stream faculty differently.

In addition, Sukits said that there may be some strong connection between salary and contributions to the University, and there may be a need for deeper analysis of Pitt’s salary data. Other Assembly members also suggested that pay data and additional statistics be made easily accessible on the Pitt Union of Faculty website to help present its case.

Collister said that having a union could help gather these statistics in a more uniform procedure since different departments clearly lay out rules for contracts while others don't.

Bickford said the union is in the process of collecting anonymous authorization cards, per Pennsylvania law, and it needs at least 30 percent of the bargaining group to submit. The cards expire after a year and the card collecting process began in mid-January.

While there is no concrete timeline yet for the process, if enough cards are gathered, then the Pennsylvania labor relations board would hold a secret ballot election, and if a majority votes to negotiate collectively with Pitt, then Pitt would be obligated by law to negotiate with the union.

He said that the USW was selected because of a shared philosophy and that USW was “extremely democratic and bottom up.”

“Working with USW means that we can sort of build channels of solidarity and collaboration with other colleagues and other faculty in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Bickford said. “It also has a sort of political weight.”

Bickford also said the Pitt Union of Faculty is including tenured faculty in a “wall-to-wall” union due to Pennsylvania state laws requiring a bargaining unit to be as large as possible and because it’s the “best expression of our values.”

“What's important here, and what I would say to all the tenured faculty here, is that Pennsylvania law prevents us from organizing just non-tenured stream faculty,” Bickford said. “So, we are unable to pursue that as a goal. I would not pursue that as a goal. But if you're a tenured faculty member and if you recognize that the majority of your colleagues are off the tenure stream, and you support a union for them, if you're against this union, you're against a union for anyone. That should be as clear as possible.”


Donovan Harrell, or 412-383-9905