Monday’s petition by the United Steelworkers for a state-supervised election to unionize thousands of University of Pittsburgh staff is rooted in years of preparation, said Jesse Dubin, a program evaluator in Pitt’s school of pharmacy.
Though the path to a vote could be complex and prolonged staff will benefit from knowing the USW already organized 3,000 full- and part-time professors on all five Pitt campuses into the Union of Pitt Faculty — something that years ago, itself, seemed unlikely, Dubin said.
“We have the faculty to thank for showing us it’s possible,” Dubin, a volunteer with the effort, said following an afternoon rally by organizers in the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg.
The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board received the union’s petition earlier Monday, said Trevor Monk, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industry.
It means the petition for a PLRB-monitored vote will be reviewed and officially acknowledged by all parties. The employer will be directed to submit a current and accurate list of all employees in the proposed bargaining unit.
A hearing will then be held to determine if the proposed bargaining unit is appropriate.
In order to file for an election, the USW needed to secure signed cards from at least 30% of the potential bargaining unit indicating support for a union representation.
A statement from Monk’s office summed up the process:
“If the statutory 30% showing of interest has been met, and an appropriate unit has been determined by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, the employer will submit a list of all current eligible voters, and the Board will schedule a date and place for an election, as well as a date and place for the counting of the ballots.”
Officials with the union could not project when the vote might occur, but said in a statement: “Within five weeks of the filing, the PLRB will begin discussions with the USW and the university to determine which staff members belong in the bargaining unit and to establish a date for the election.”
Pitt initially declined comment on Monday’s filing, but later issued a statement that said in part the university will work “to fully understand the proposed bargaining unit. Once a bargaining unit is determined — often an iterative process — we will also share informational updates directly to employees by email and on staffunionization.pitt.edu.”
Last Thursday, the university said it respects individuals’ rights to organize and has a history of working with unions.
The Capitol rotunda rally Monday drew elected officials, labor representatives and about 40 to 50 Pitt staff members, union officials said.
The Steelworkers did not specify the bargaining unit size. But it estimated the total could exceed 5,000 on Pitt’s main Oakland campus and branches at Greensburg, Johnstown, Bradford and Titusville, making it potentially the largest public sector union election in the state in decades. It would not include workers at UPMC.
The USW said issues driving the union-election effort include transparency surrounding advancement opportunities, competitive pay and secure benefits.
Dubin, 29, of Squirrel Hill, a member of the volunteer organizing committee, said the union’s role is not just to resolve disputes. It is also to codify what’s good about the workplace, including benefits, into a contract “so they will be there for future generations. “