University of Pittsburgh graduate students begin voting Monday to determine whether the nearly 2,000 student workers will be represented by the United Steelworkers Union.
Eligible voters can cast ballots between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Voting Monday and Tuesday will take place in Room 2501 at Posvar Hall. Polls will be open Wednesday and Thursday in the O’Hara Student Center’s Second Floor Ballroom.
Organizers say they want fair wages and due process. The university has long-opposed student union efforts.
Caitlin Schroering is a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in the department of sociology and a research assistant. She said a union would create a more fair and democratic university.
“I truly believe that a union is the only way for all of us grads across different schools and departments to be able to have a collective voice, to be able to have a process for having a voice and having input over our working conditions,” she said.
The university has questioned if student union efforts are 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 Vice Provost for Graduate Studies, Nathan Urban, sent a letter to students last week alleging that misinformation was being shared in the unionization effort.
Urban’s letter stated that, “Pitt already provides graduate students many of the ‘wins’ that the United Steelworkers say other unions have accomplished through bargaining at some of our peer schools. For instance: anti-discrimination policies, parental accommodations, free individual health insurance, sexual harassment prevention policies...these provisions are already in place for Pitt grad students.”
Urban went on to warn students of potential conflicts of interest ahead.
“The United Steelworkers is attempting to represent both Pitt students and Pitt faculty. This raises some important questions, such as: If a graduate student has a grievance involving a faculty member who the Steelworkers also represent will the union be able to fairly represent that student’s interests?” Urban wrote in the letter.
Pitt faculty filed for a union election with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in January with the goal of forming a union across all five campuses. Organizers are working with the United Steelworkers.
The statement went on to urge students to participate in the vote because, “If Pitt students vote to be represented by the United Steelworkers, there is no opting out. So, please don’t sit this election out.”