The run up to the election has prompted a flood of information. Some of it is true. Some misleading. Some topics fall far outside a union’s bargaining capacity. And a few “facts” are grossly inaccurate.
Let’s set the record straight on a few key items.
Giving credit where credit is due. 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.
A primer on PA law. Pitt is not required to continue stipend increases when contract negotiations are underway (despite what the United Steelworkers claim). Our reference? Pennsylvania labor law, which is very clear that the status quo does not include annual increases during the negotiation process. See International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 743 v. Upper Leacock Township, 43 PPER 72 (Final Order, 2011)
Representation matters. Pitt has a strong (and long) track record of working closely with our graduate students. The United Steelworkers, on the other hand, has never represented any graduate students in the United States, despite vague claims about organizing ten thousand individuals in higher education.
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?
We have an entire office that is devoted—100%—to supporting our international community. Meet our Office of International Services. It’s not new. But it serves all 4,500 international students, scholars, staff, and faculty who call Pitt their academic home.
Visa and immigration issues are not unionization issues. The U.S. government is the only entity that can issue or deny visas and work permits or order deportations. Having a union has zero impact on the U.S. government’s authority to make these decisions.
Once you’re in, you’re in. If a union is elected, you cannot opt out of being covered by the contract and the terms of your appointment will be negotiated by the United Steelworkers—even if you don’t join the union or pay dues.
A contract is a contract. Most graduate student union contracts (like Temple and U Washington) specify a maximum number of hours that students can work per week. Contract terms can’t be circumvented by you or the University, despite what the Steelworkers have claimed. If you tried to work more than the delineated hours, the University would have to stop you or breach the agreement and potentially face consequences, full stop.