Bargaining unit size still in dispute for faculty union


The Union of Pitt Faculty claimed in a new round of hearings that began on July 24 that roughly 800 people do not belong in the proposed bargaining unit the University submitted to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

The main issue in these hearings still centers on an ongoing dispute between the union, represented by the United Steelworkers, and Pitt, represented by Ballard Spahr, on the appropriate bargaining unit size.

The University initially said it would not comply with a PLRB subpoena that required it to submit the proposed bargaining unit to the union for comparison. The union condemned this decision in a July 19 press release.

“Given the depths to which Chancellor Gallagher has already sunk in order to thwart our efforts to form a union on campus, it’s unsurprising that the administration is pursuing this course of action,” William Scott, an associate professor in the English department, said in the release. “It’s clear that he knows a majority of faculty want a union and is willing to do anything to keep us from voting.”

In response to these allegations, which the University has called “baseless” and “false” in the past, University spokesman Joe Miksch said in an emailed statement on July 19 that the University felt it shouldn’t have to provide this information to the union.

“This sweeping subpoena attempts to shift responsibility onto Pitt to prove that the list is accurate, as the Steelworkers seek thousands of pages of personal information about more than 4,000 faculty members, including payroll data, assignments and disability information,” Miksch said. “We disagree with this tactic and look forward to following the PLRB process to resolve this matter.”

However, the University did eventually provide the union with the proposed bargaining unit it submitted to the PLRB during the July 24 hearing.

According to the University’s legal representatives from Ballard Spahr, Pitt’s list contains 4,018 employees. In comparison, the union claimed when it submitted signed cards in January that the full proposed bargaining unit was made up of roughly 3,500 full- and part-time faculty across Pitt’s campuses. That number was based on numbers provided in the University Factbook and other factors.

During the hearing, United Steelworkers legal representatives argued that there are 800 people who do not belong on the University’s list.

These people include:

  • 400 part-time faculty who do not meet certain requirements

  • 40 people the union couldn’t independently confirm had ties to Pitt

  • Retired faculty

  • Graduate students

  • Faculty members who have died

The union also argued that 70 people should be added to the bargaining unit. Overall, the union estimates the appropriate bargaining unit size to be roughly 3,300 people.

USW representatives first called Robin Sowards, lead organizer for the faculty union, to present his testimony. Sowards said the USW determined these numbers based on Pitt course schedules, conversations with faculty, independent research through Google and social media and University staff and department directories.

On cross examination, Ballard Spahr representatives argued that the union may not have access to certain employee information based on these sources, such as faculty who may not have taught since fall 2017 but still have other duties within their respective academic departments.

The union has not provided a specific number of cards it submitted. In the past, representatives claimed they had a “significant cushion” of support beyond the 30 percent threshold required by the PLRB.

Over the past few months, the union has repeatedly made claims that the University “inflated” its proposed bargaining unit size in its submission to the PLRB.

This dispute began with a series of legal decisions starting in April when the PLRB initially denied the union a hearing, saying that it hadn’t gathered the required number of cards supporting the proposed bargaining unit. The PLRB reached that decision based on the list of potential bargaining unit employees that the University submitted.

The union quickly appealed that decision, and the PLRB supported the appeal in June. The PLRB then subpoenaed Pitt to provide the union with the list it gave the PLRB.

These hearings will continue into next week as the University and the USW present multiple witnesses to bolster their cases.

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