Pitt graduate student workers’ union vote ruled inconclusive
Union organizers at the University of Pittsburgh on Friday were dealt their second setback in a little more than week when graduate student workers failed to prevail in a union vote, a preliminary count showed.
Organizers tallied 675 yes votes for the union to 712 no votes, but they still have not officially lost the election.
The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board ruled the count inconclusive, pending a ruling on 153 contested ballots.
Graduate student teaching and research assistants at Pitt began working to organize under the auspices of the Pittsburgh-based United Steelworkers of America in January 2016 and filed for an election in December 2017. The PLRB finally granted some 2,000 graduate student workers the right to hold an election last month. Pitt officials objected, arguing the teaching and research assistants were students, not employees.
Organizers said they were disappointed in the outcome. They accused Pitt’s administration of illegal interference in the election, including intimidation and the dissemination of misinformation.
“Instead of stepping back and allowing grad student workers to make this decision for themselves, the administration hired high-priced, union-busting lawyers from Ballard Spahr,” union organizers said in an email.
Pitt officials said they are awaiting the resolution of the contested ballots.
“As we wait for the challenges to be resolved and the final vote count to be determined, we want to say thank you to all students who participated in this election process. We also want to remind students that no matter how you voted, the University of Pittsburgh remains committed to supporting you and your academic success,” university spokesman Joe Miksch said Friday.
“In terms of intimidation, we worked to educate students by providing facts and encouraging all to vote regardless of their choice,” Miksch added.
Last week, faculty union organizers at Pitt who had petitioned to hold an election faced a setback when the PLRB ruled they had failed to obtain the requisite number of signatures of potential members required to hold an election.
Organizers contested the ruling, saying Pitt had inflated the number of positions eligible for union representation.
Both the graduate student workers and faculty members have been engaged in long-term organizing efforts at Pitt’s Oakland campus.
Pitt graduate student employees Friday vowed to keep fighting.
Faculty organizers at Pitt, meanwhile, have vowed to contest the ruling that disputed their numbers.
The United Steelworkers Academic Workers Association, the organization working to organize academic employees at Pitt, previously prevailed in efforts to organize adjunct faculty at Duquesne, Robert Morris and Point Park universities.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .