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USW to try to organize Pitt faculty, grad students

| Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

The United Steelworkers union Friday announced plans to try to organize faculty and graduate student employees at the University of Pittsburgh and its branch campuses.

Spokeswoman Maria Somma said “hundreds” of Pitt employees have contacted the Pittsburgh-based international union seeking representation. The union has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to discuss the organizing campaign.

Ken Service, Pitt's vice chancellor for communications, declined to comment.

“University professors, adjunct and full-time, are organizing all around the country,” Somma said.

Faculty are organizing to make sure their voices are being heard by college and university administrations and their issues are being addressed at the bargaining table, she said.

Pitt employs about 5,200 full- and part-time faculty members in Pittsburgh and regional campuses in Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville, and more than 35,000 graduate and undergraduate student attend classes, according to its website.

Somma estimated 2,500 graduate employees, including teaching and research assistants, would be eligible to join the union.

She said the union is attempting to organize the faculty and graduate employees in separate campaigns.

Pitt is considered a state-related university along with Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities. Faculty at Temple and Lincoln are represented by unions.

Faculty at state universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education have been represented for decades by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

Somma said at least 30 percent of Pitt faculty and graduate employes must express interest in joining the union before an organizing vote can be scheduled. She said the union is hoping to attract at least 50 percent of the employees.

“The state requires 30 percent, but obviously you can't win with 30 percent of the workforce, so we will be looking for a super majority,” she said.

Since 2014, the Steelworkers have successfully unionized faculty at Point Park and Robert Morris universities. The union organized faculty at Duquesne University during a bitter campaign that the administration continues to challenge in court.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at bbauder@tribweb.com.

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