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Pitt Tries To Block Grad Student Unionization Re-Vote

Courtesy of United Steelworkers
Student organizers have been pushing for a graduate union for more than three years, hosting listening sessions and demonstrating to garner support.

The University of Pittsburgh is moving to block a new election seeking to unionize graduate student workers that was proposed in September by a state labor board official.

Pitt administrators said in a statement Tuesday that they disagree with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board examiner's finding of unfair labor practices. Those findings stem from 12 allegations filed by the United Steelworkers after a four-day election in April left organizers 37 votes short. The union and student organizers accused university officials of tactics that discouraged the roughly 2,000 eligible teaching, research and other grad assistants from voting. 

A state examiner found nine of those allegations lacked merit. 

In its statement Tuesday, Pitt argued that of the remaining three, two are related to factual statements on the Pitt website similar to others previously deemed acceptable, and the third related to an email sent to “a small number of eligible voters,” and that “in this email, a department chair encourages students to vote — and does not pick a side — while also linking to information from both the steelworkers and the university.”

Ben Case, a teaching fellow with Pitt's sociology department who's been helping organize the would-be Academic Workers Association, said graduate students help make the university run, but added they aren't granted as much job security or seniority as full-time employees and aren't allowed to contribute to conversations about their health care coverage and other benefits.

Case said he was disappointed to hear Pitt appealed the Labor Relations Board's latest proposal, but wasn't surprised.

Hear Ben Case's full comments on Wednesday's episode of The Confluence.

"Unfortunately this is part of a pattern that the Pitt administration has exhibited of delaying and interfering with this union process," he says. "We're fighting for a seat at the table in terms of the decision making processes that affect our lives."

The university had 20 days to respond to the hearing examiner's Sept. 18 ruling and order for a new election. The matter is now expected to go before the full labor board.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.