Union’s impact on shared governance is a big question


Pitt’s shared governance, made up of Pitt administrators, staff, students and faculty, has been the University community’s main method for researching, formulating and suggesting institutional changes. Pitt administrators use these proposals to inform the institutional changes they make.


The nearly 3,000 faculty members eligible to vote in the union election will receive ballots by mail on Aug. 27 and will have until close of business on Oct. 12 to return their ballots to the PLRB’s Harrisburg office, according to a PLRB order on July 16.

If voters don’t receive their ballot by Sept. 13, the PLRB is urging them to contact the office immediately. Organizers with the United Steelworkers — which is representing the faculty union — are urging faculty to send in their votes at least a week before the October deadline.

The ballots will be counted starting at 10 a.m. Oct. 19 and end on Oct. 21 if necessary.

The proposed union that faculty are beginning to vote on would create a way for Pitt faculty to directly negotiate with University administrators on pay, working conditions, and other issues and form legally binding agreements.

Provost Ann Cudd reiterated this week that the University administration is taking a completely neutral stance on the union vote, in terms of what the decision should be, “but what we hope is that people think very seriously about it and vote and that they really make their voices heard,” she said. “It is a big decision. It will have many consequences, some of which are not really even foreseeable at this point.”

And many members of Faculty Assembly, which serves as the primary vehicle in shared governance for faculty issues and concerns, would be included in the proposed bargaining unit of more than 3,000 people. Some of these members are also a part of the unionization effort, which is represented by the United Steelworkers.

There are a variety of ways faculty unions at universities across the country have chosen to interact with their administrators. Some faculty unions, such as at the University of Florida, only deal with matters of compensation and benefits while shared governance handles the other separate issues, and there are other instances where the union handles most labor issues and shared governance issues, like the Los Angeles Community College District.

Temple University’s faculty union, the Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP), has a similar bargaining unit size and makeup (about 3,000 people) when compared to Pitt faculty’s proposed bargaining unit. The TAUP, which has existed since 1973, includes adjuncts, tenured faculty and non-tenured faculty.

Jennie Shanker, a former TAUP vice president, said the TAUP works with Temple’s Faculty Senate on many issues. Faculty Senate representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Each group has different relationships with Temple’s administrators, she said, and each group has different types of power.

The TAUP has been able to successfully bargain for salary increases for adjunct faculty, she said, and has negotiated for specific language in faculty contracts that says that faculty promotion and tenure decisions wouldn’t solely depend on student feedback.

“I would say that in general, the faculty senate cultivates a more friendly relationship with the administration because, in a lot of ways, the administration has a choice about whether they’re going to respect them or not,” Shanker said. “With the union, they don’t have that choice. And because of that, the administration won’t be as willing to do something like, share information that people on campus want to know about through a union event. But they would do it through a faculty senate event.”

Pitt Senate Council President Robin Kear has been researching how other faculty unions have interacted with school administrators. Kear said she’s spoken to Faculty Assembly members who are also part of the unionization effort, but she’s “still unclear on specifics.”

“Part of it’s a chicken and an egg situation because a collective bargaining group agreement won’t be negotiated until there’s a yes vote for the union,” Kear said. “And until there’s a ‘yes’ vote for the union, there would never be a collective bargaining agreement.”

Kear said that until details are sorted out, Senate Council and Faculty Assembly will remain neutral on the topic of unionization. She added that she didn’t want to give the impression that this is an all-or-nothing situation, but if a union is formed, shared governance would change.

But former Senate Council President Chris Bonneau, who has voiced his opposition to the unionization effort, said the lack of specifics on how a union would interact with shared governance is troubling.

“The scope of (a faculty union) is completely dependent,” Bonneau said. “So that’s why some of us have been trying to get answers like, how do you see this working? And the answer is, ‘well, we’ll decide.’ Well, you can’t be all things to all people. You’re asking people to vote for a structure that we don’t know what it’s going to look like.”

Tyler Bickford, a union organizer, and chair of the Senate Budget Policies Committee agrees with Kear and said that a relationship between the union and the University Senate ultimately comes down to what faculty decide their priorities are.

“And it’s also something that the administration will have a voice in during bargaining,” Bickford said. “This is something that we will all figure out together.”

He added that there are “very few risks to shared governance” if a faculty decide to form a union and that a union could potentially improve the aspects of shared governance that work.

“I have a lot of experience, working in shared governance at Pitt in the Senate, but also in my department, and in the Dietrich School,” said Bickford, who is an associate professor in the English department. “I’m very invested in it. And I have no concern that the sorts of things that are working will be eroded. If anything, I really strongly believe that we’ll have some tools to strengthen the things that are not working.”

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


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