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Pitt faculty union files unfair labor charge with university over masking policy change

90.5 WESA

The union representing University of Pittsburgh faculty says it has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board because the administration didn’t discuss its upcoming masking policy shift with union leaders.

A university spokesperson said Saturday that the administration had not yet seen the union’s complaint.

“The mask requirement changes will continue to go into effect on Monday in alignment with current CDC guidance,” spokesperson David Seldin said in an email.

Faculty joined the United Steelworkers union last fall and began bargaining its first contract with the university this month.

Pitt administrators announced Monday that, effective March 28, masks would be optional inside all university facilities on its Oakland campus and four regional campuses. The message announcing the change noted that the move was consistent with updated guidance issued last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The administration said the university will maintain all other COVID-19 mitigation efforts, such as its weekly testing program for unvaccinated individuals.

The USW said in a Friday press release that it had offered a proposal that included practical solutions like making, “the accommodations procedure more flexible and giving individual faculty discretion to set masking policies in their classrooms, labs, and offices.”

“However, due to the administration’s failure to provide timely notification of the change, there was no opportunity for meaningful discussion before the policy is set to go into effect,” the union release states.

Seldin, the university spokesperson, did not immediately have a response as to why administrators did not discuss the policy change with the union.

A Friday message from the university to instructors said that there will be differing responses to the lifting of the mandate.

“Some may feel a sense of relief or liberation, while others may experience a heightened sense of anxiety or vigilance," the letter said. "It will be important to recognize and manage both the impacts on, and reactions of, our students and colleagues to the new posture."

Tyler Bickford, a professor in the English department, said in the USW release that faculty voted to unionize, in part, to have a voice, “in decisions that impact how we do our jobs.”

“Despite the falling infection rates, there will always be members of our campus community who are immunocompromised or are in other situations that require extra caution,” he said. “For the administration to say ‘no one can make you wear a mask’ rather than ‘how can we work together so that we can all succeed’ shows that its process is out of line.”