The United Steelworkers (USW), North America’s largest industrial union, has released a statement calling on the University of Pittsburgh (UP) to stop trying to undermine the creation of a union for graduate students and faculty at the school. It was revealed that the university has spent more than $2 million on union-busting attorneys to obstruct these efforts.
The university has argued that graduate students are only students, not employees, and that a union would negatively affect their education by changing the student-faculty relationship to one that is more “rule-bound” and “combative.”
The USW’s statement called on the UP administration “to end its anti-union campaign against the university’s graduate students and faculty in light of reports showing that Pitt has paid more than $2 million on union-busting attorneys in recent years.”
$2M for ‘Union Avoidance Services’
It was found that UP paid the Ballard Spahr law firm “nearly $900,000 during the fiscal year that ended June 30” for union avoidance services that are advertised on their website to supplement the university’s campaign to stop graduate student workers and faculty members from joining the USW. This payment has brought the total amount Pitt has paid to the firm to more than $2.1 million since 2016.
A lecturer in Pitt’s Psychology Department, Melinda Ciccocioppo, said that it was “unconscionable” for the university to accept Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars only to spend millions “to prevent its own employees from having a voice on the job.”
Admin Block Efforts to Unionize
While the USW primarily represents trade workers employed in metals, mining, paper, rubber, and other industries, they have recently opened up to other fields such as healthcare, higher education, technology, and the service industry.
In April 2019, Pitt’s working graduate students lost a vote by 712 to 675 to join the USW, which the union attributes to unfair labor practices by the university. This vote has since been ruled illegitimate.
Last summer, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing examiner also discovered that university administration had inflated a list of its faculty employees to cripple the faculty’s unionization campaign.
According to the ruling, the university handed over a list that was “factually and legally inaccurate,” and determined that it included employees that were in supervisory and managerial positions that were supposed to be excluded from the bargaining unit.