Graduate student union organizers file unfair labor charges against Pitt |

Graduate student union organizers file unfair labor charges against Pitt

Deb Erdley

Organizers who sought to unionize graduate student workers at the University of Pittsburgh said the university’s hardball tactics during a union election last month prevented “free and fair” balloting.

In a complaint filed Wednesday, the United Steelworkers alleged Pitt engaged in unfair labor practices and asked the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to set aside the results of recent balloting and order a new election.

The PLRB ruled that union vote, held Apr. 15-18, was inconclusive after organizers challenged 153 ballots cast in the election, which resulted in 675 votes for the union and 712 against. USW spokeswoman Jess Broomell said the ballot issue remained unresolved as the union filed charges for the graduate student workers.

Graduate student workers were attempting to organize under the auspices of the USW’s Academic Workers Association. The group previously conducted successful organizing drives among part-time faculty at Robert Morris, Point Park and Duquesne universities.

About 2,000 Pitt graduate teaching assistants and researchers were eligible to participate in last month’s union vote, which capped a three-year union drive at the university’s Oakland campus.

The USW’s complaint alleges that Pitt administration election watchers asked to see the IDs of those voting, requested each person to say and spell their name before marking them off the watcher’s list, and ultimately compiled an independent list of those who voted. Organizers charged that such actions were intended to intimidate voters and potential voters.

Pitt officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Pitt spokesman previously dismissed allegations of voter intimidation, saying the university merely “worked to educate students by providing facts and encouraging all to vote regardless of their choice.”

In addition to asking for a new vote, union organizers asked the PLRB to order Pitt officials to post a document conceding the illegality the school’s conduct and affirming the rights of graduate student employees to vote without coercion in a union election.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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