Faculty union wants health and safety standards in contract


In a Jan. 13 bargaining update, the Union of Pitt Faculty said one of its priorities was having core standards protecting workplace health and safety included in the collective bargaining agreement with Pitt.


Tyler Bickford, chair of the Union of Pitt Faculty bargaining committee, has agreed to attend the Feb. 15 Faculty Assembly meeting to answer questions about how shared governance and the union can work together.

“Pennsylvania public sector workers are not covered by OSHA, and the Commonwealth does not have an equivalent law protecting workers like us, but the administration is still asking us to accept their assurances rather than agree to language ensuring a baseline of protections,” the update said.

Lauren Collister, a member of the union’s bargaining committee and a faculty member in the University Library System, said in an interview last week that, “we have been talking about health and safety for a few months now, and we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Most people, she said, know that Pitt already has robust health and safety protections and policies, but because those aren’t guaranteed by state or federal law, the union wants to include in the contract assurances “that these good baselines of protection continue.”

Collister said they are working on a proposal that outlines the responsibility of the administration to provide a safe working environment and the process for faculty members to report concerns about health and safety issues.

“We don’t want to simply accept assurances that we will continue to have these robust policies,” she said. “We want language in the contract that ensures that and that is enforceable.”

When situations change, such as when the pandemic started, “we want to make sure that there are mechanisms to respond to that. That takes into account both need for changes, but also sharing information, being a learning environment for everybody involved, so that everybody knows what’s going on,” Collister said.

A University spokesman said in a statement: "The University is aware of issues around Pennsylvania state law on this matter. That is why Pitt has developed strong institutional policies that reflect our firm commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all members of the University community." 

The union and administration are meeting roughly twice a month, with the next sessions planned for the first full week of February. “We would like to have more so we can make faster progress, but we also know that there’s a lot of work involved in reviewing things and finding information,” she said.

Other issues being negotiated, according to the union:

  • The administration and union continue to trade proposals on non-tenure-stream contract lengths and renewals. Both sides have proposed approaches that would increase contract lengths and reform the renewal process toward a more automatic system, according to the union’s Jan. 25 bargaining update.

  • Contract lengths and renewals for librarians and Falk School faculty.

  • The Jan. 13 bargaining update said the administration presented a counterproposal on putting academic freedom protections into enforceable contract language.

  • The bargaining committee said it was making progress on union rights, which spell out the union’s ability to communicate with faculty, hold meetings on campus, and access relevant information. The union is hoping to get a list of faculty members’ work email addresses from the University.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in an interview last week that he believes both sides are negotiating responsibly and making progress.

“I think what we should all be focused on is a good outcome, and the best way to get to a good outcome is to let the negotiating teams have the back and forth as part of any negotiation without the chancellor chiming in,” he said.

Geovette Washington, Pitt’s chief legal officer, said the University is now using the Ogletree Deakins law firm, which has offices in Pittsburgh, for help during the faculty union negotiations because they are local and bargaining meetings are happening frequently and in person.

She noted that Pitt uses several different law firms, depending on the issues involved and the firms’ expertise.

Faculty strike ends in Chicago

Pitt is not alone in negotiating with a faculty union. The University of Illinois Chicago United Faculty, which represents tenure/tenure-track and full-time non-tenure track faculty, reached a labor agreement in January with its administration that includes wage increases and stronger protections for instructors who are not on the tenure track, ending a nearly weeklong strike, WLS reported

Aaron Krall, president of the union, said the group is “especially proud” of securing minimum salaries of $60,000 for the lowest-paid union members.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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