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Pitt Grad Student Unionization Vote Result Is Inconclusive

Abby Cartus

It is unclear if University of Pittsburgh graduate student workers will be able to unionize. The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board tallied votes Friday, but the board was unable to make a determination because of a number of contested ballots.

The vote was closely split among the nearly 1,400 voters with 712 voting no and 675 voting to be represented by the United Steelworkers. There are 153 challenged ballots. More than 2,000 graduate student workers being paid for research, teaching or assisting faculty were eligible to vote.

The board will convene both sides Monday to discuss the challenged votes.

Student organizers expressed disappointment Friday with the election and what they call, “illegal interference by the university administration,” according to the United Steelworkers press release.

The union alleged that university officials intimidated and misinformed students before and during the election.

Kim Garrett, a grad student researcher in environmental and occupational health, says the fight is not over.

“We believe that the count today is due to the university’s misleading information and active effort to obstruct the campaign and election including pressuring students into voting no,” she said.

A university spokesman did not respond to the union’s allegations. In a statement he thanked students and reminded them that the university is committed to their academic success.

The university has long-questioned if a student union is in the best interest of students and the university. It has argued that students are not employees. Last month the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board sided with students affirming that they are entitled to union representation.

The administration has urged students to be informed and said in letters and on a website dedicated to the unionization effort that a, “one-size-fits-all approach limits an institution’s capacity to tailor options and accommodations according to students’ individual needs.”

The university’s website also notes that a union contract, “may restrict the University’s ability to attract and educate top students.”  

Nathan Urban, the Vice Provost for Graduate Studies reiterated that the university is committed to a quality experience for graduate students in a letter sent to students last week after four days of voting,  

“Regardless of the final vote count, it’s worth reiterating that both I and the University will remain dedicated to supporting you,” he said.

Student organizers have said for more than three years that graduate student workers are employees that require protections. They have said a union would provide job and pay security, due process, and protection from harassment.

“Through a union contract we hope to provide a stable funding system for graduate student employees so they can concentrate on their teaching, research, writing, and lead healthy, balanced lives,” the organizing website states.

WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.