PA Labor Relations Board Says Pitt Students Can Hold An Election To Unionize

Mar 7, 2019

University of Pittsburgh graduate students are one step closer to having union representation. 

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board ruled Thursday that the nearly 2,000 graduate students working as researchers, teaching, or serving as graduate assistants are employees — making them eligible for unionization.

The PLRB, the university, and the United Steelworkers – the union working with students – now must set an election date.

Student organizers have sought representation for several years, saying they want a greater voice in health care and instituting safeguards against harassment.

“We need a union because we deserve to participate in the decision-making process that affects us and our jobs,” said Hillary Lazar, a graduate employee in the department of sociology, in a statement from the Steelworkers.

Abby Cartus, a PhD student in epidemiology and a grad student researcher, said she's enjoyed her experience at Pitt but that her peers want a say in their departments.

“Just the fact that luck sort of plays such a large role in what your experience in graduate school will be is a reason we would all benefit from having a union,” Cartus said.

Pitt’s administration said it was disappointed by PLRB’s decision, according to a release from university spokesperson Joe Miksch.

“(We) are evaluating our options going forward. However, we will continue to follow the PLRB process,” Miksch said in the statement.

The university will prepare a list of eligible voters — graduate students — based on their spring semester appointments, according to the statement.

“We encourage eligible students to be fully informed on this important issue – and to vote and make their voices heard when the election occurs,” Miksch said in the statement.

Four groups of grad students are eligible to vote, according to the university. They include: teaching assistants, teaching fellows, graduate student assistants, and graduate student researchers.

Grad students filed for a union election in December 2017. The university administration filed an objection in 2018 stating the workers were students and not employees.

WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.