Information Session: Questions & Answers

On March 26, 2019, Vice Provost Nathan Urban hosted an information session to answer questions about graduate student unionization and the election process.  

View the information session video »

As promised, this page answers your questions from the session—including questions that were not discussed at the event due to time constraints. To get you answers more quickly, we have combined or condensed similar questions.

Union Basics

Why are the United Steelworkers (USW) unionizing grad students if they're steelworkers?

Although we cannot speculate about their reasons, we do note that, while the USW represents workers in a variety of industries, to our knowledge they do not have any history of representing graduate students.

If I don't want a union but the vote passes and a union forms, do I have to take all the consequences even if I voted no against unionization?

Your (anonymous) vote does not have an impact on what terms apply to you. You cannot opt out of the union, and would be bound by all the terms of the collective bargaining agreement if a union is certified.

Can you clarify the difference between the PLRB and the USW/GSOC?

The PLRB is the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. It is part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's government that regulates, investigates, and performs activities related to Pennsylvania labor law.

The USW, or United Steelworkers, is a trade union of steelworkers and others and is the union that is seeking to represent graduate students at Pitt.

The GSOC refers to the Pitt Graduate Student Organizing Committee, which is working with the steelworkers. However, the steelworkers, and only the steelworkers, will be authorized by the PLRB to represent graduate students if it prevails in the election.

Comparisons

As far as I can tell, none of the 18 R1, Public Sector, AAU Member universities recently established unions are in Pennsylvania. The only other public sector, AAU member school in PA, by my estimate, is Penn State. However, the website says PSU is currently unionizing. Therefore, I conclude that none of the 18 schools used to make comparisons are actually in PA. This leads me to wonder: Do PA labor laws differ greatly from other states', such that it would hurt the union’s bargaining ability in any way compared to the 18 R1, Public Sector, AAU Member schools studied on the union website? Follow up question: Can you give me any information on how negotiations are going at Penn State?

The only other unionized graduate students in Pennsylvania are at Temple University. There, the president of the graduate student union at Temple University (TUGSA) has proposed ending higher stipends for students in certain fields. We do not know what would happen at Pitt.

The labor laws do vary by state, so what unions can and cannot negotiate over may depend on the specific state.

At Penn State, the students voted against the union in April 2018, so there is no graduate student union or negotiations there.

All of the grad unions (18) in Pitt's comparison class (34 universities) have negotiated wage increases. Do you expect a different result at Pitt?
Pitt has implemented stipend increases at a rate exceeding the increases in faculty and staff compensation at Pitt and also at a rate faster than that of many unionized graduate students. Those increases would not occur while a contract was being negotiated. Even if a contract is reached, it is impossible to know what terms a collective bargaining agreement would bring. For example, the changes in how stipends are set could occur, which could impact the stipends of students in different ways. Heading into their last contract negotiations, the president of the graduate student union at Temple University proposed to change the existing school-/college-based stipends to uniform stipend levels. Such a change could result in lower stipends for resource-rich fields—like many STEM programs—to match those in less-resourced programs that cannot afford to raise stipends to the higher levels. It could also result in a decrease in the number of funded slots that programs can make available to support students.
What have the outcomes of unionization been at similar universities that have unionized? In particular, how were pay, benefits, and hours affected? Did many strikes occur?
It’s difficult to compare Pitt with other universities because (1) each states’ labor laws are different, (2) PA law provides little guidance on what will be subject to negotiations, and (3) the bargaining unit set by the PLRB here is different in that it includes GSRs, which are only included in a small number of unions at other institutions. The unit at Temple University, for example, includes trainees, but does not include most research assistants.

At other universities, there have been a number of strikes in recent years, including two strikes at University of Illinois campuses in the past two years.
Given the unionization of grad students in the UC and SUNY systems, can the University explain why they believe Pittsburgh is so different that unionization would harm its ability to train and teach grad students?
The bargaining units in the UC system, like most graduate student unions across the country, do not include students on research appointments. The SUNY contracts similarly cover TAs and GAs. The bargaining unit proposed here is different because it includes students who are performing research, including federally sponsored research, for their appointment, which may be identical to or intertwined with their academic research.

In addition, what can be bargained is different in different states, with many states defining what is academic and outside bargaining and what can be addressed through negotiations. Pennsylvania law, on the other hand, is not so clearly defined. As a result, the situation at Pitt is different than at universities in other states.
Just to clarify, your only objection to a union is your perceived uncertainty despite positive impacts made by grad student unions across the country?
The university believes that unionization will introduce a third party between students and their programs and advisors. Items covered by the contract cannot be modified locally through discussions between individual faculty and students, resulting in a lack of flexibility for both students and the University. We do not believe that this is in the best interest of current students, future students or the University.

In addition, we believe that graduate students, like medical residents, interns and fellows, cannot unionize under the controlling Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent. Finally, the union proposed here, which includes graduate student researchers, is different than the majority of graduate student unions around the country.
Activities that are a direct academic benefit at Temple? What are more examples of unintended consequences?
At Temple University, students on research appointments who are in the bargaining unit cannot get any “direct academic benefit” from that research. That means that the research performed in connection with their appointment cannot form any part of their dissertation or any coursework and generally cannot be used for academic publications.

It is impossible to know what impact a union would have at Pitt, if certified, because no one can know what things will be in a collective bargaining agreement. However, it could result in things like limitations on research hours, limitations on using research for academic purposes, limitations on research opportunities, and reductions in the number of appointments available in some programs.

What we do know is that it will put a third party between the University and students and will eliminate the flexibility the University and departments now have to work individually with students in ways that are the hallmark of graduate education.
I would like to hear about grad student unions outside of PA; there are many. UConn? Brandeis? Is it as uncertain as you say when there are existing good student unions all over the U.S.?
It’s difficult to compare Pitt with other universities because (1) each state’s labor laws are different, (2) Pennsylvania law provides little guidance on what will be subject to negotiations, and (3) the bargaining unit set by the PLRB here is different in that it includes GSRs, which are only included in a small number of unions at other institutions.
Have you ever seen a grad union contract with working hours restrictions? Please be specific.

Yes. In the Temple University collective bargaining agreement, which is the only graduate student union in Pennsylvania, there is a work hour restriction. The contract provides: “[a] maximum of 20 calculated clock hours of service per week is required of TAs for a full-time appointment.” There are also workload/hours restrictions in many other collective bargaining agreements, including, for example, the University of California and the University of Connecticut. It is worth noting that these other contracts do not include graduate student researchers the way the proposed bargaining unit here does.

Eligibility to Vote

How was eligibility determined, and why are those with fellowships not included in the bargaining unit and unable to vote?

Several attendees had questions about who is eligible to vote and how that was determined:

  • Why are students currently on fellowship not able to vote?
  • Which students get to vote?
  • How were they selected?
  • Of the approximately 8,000 full-time graduate students, only around 2,000 are estimated to be in the bargaining unit. Why are so few eligible to vote?
  • Why are students currently on fellowship not able to vote?

The union requested that only students on academic appointments—teaching assistants, teaching fellows, graduate student assistants, and graduate student researchers—be part of the proposed bargaining unit. The hearing examiner granted the union’s request, so only those students are allowed to vote. It did not include pre-doctoral fellows or pre-doctoral trainees.

These questions are also answered in part on our FAQ page:

I don't think the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) understands how often students change from being a research/teaching assistant to being on a fellowship. Those who have been deemed not eligible to vote will be directly impacted by the voting process and outcome but don’t have a say. Was that explained to the PLRB? How can I appeal the decision of who is eligible to vote?

During the October 2018 hearings, there was discussion about the makeup of the bargaining unit and whether there should be modifications to it. The University's perspective is that all students should be treated in the same way with respect to these issues. The University did present information to the PLRB illustrating that graduate students often transition from one type of appointment to another.

In the end, the PLRB hearing examiner ruled for a unit that was effectively the unit proposed by union organizers: TAs and TFs, GSAs, and GSRs.

There is no mechanism to further argue the composition of the bargaining unit at this moment. The election will go forward with this defined unit starting April 15. After the election, either party can appeal the hearing examiner’s decision, which includes the decision to exclude trainees and fellows.

In cases where other universities, institutions, and/or workplaces have had a group decide to unionize, was everyone who was going to be impacted eligible to vote? I am having a hard time understanding how it is ethical to prohibit students who will be directly impacted by the unionization during their graduate careers with fellowships from voting.

We are not aware of any other university where the unit definition matched the one that the union asked for here, which is what the hearing examiner ordered.

Why are students currently on fellowship not able to vote? Why are their voices not important to the University on this important decision?

Their voices are incredibly important to the University. The University did not ask for this unit; the union asked the PLRB to exclude trainees and fellows and that is what the hearing examiner did.

Voting

Why is there no minimum number of votes required to establish a representative majority? As presented, if three students show up to vote and two vote for unionization, then those two votes decide for everyone.

In so many electoral settings, the group that votes is the group that decides the question. That is why it is absolutely critical that all students who are eligible show up to vote.

See also, FAQ: Why should all eligible voters vote?

Where can I file a contested ballot?
As described on the Election Timing & Process page, if you think you are supposed to be in the bargaining unit and your name is not on the list, you can still go to one of the election locations and ask to vote, and your ballot will be considered a challenged ballot. Your ballot will be counted if the PLRB finds you are eligible. The election will be held 9 a.m.–5 p.m. April 15–16 in Posvar Hall, Room 2501, and April 17–18 in the O'Hara Student Center, Second Floor Ballroom.
I will be in France during those dates, is there a way for me to vote if I'm in France?
There is no provision in the PLRB rules for an absentee ballot. It is an in-person ballot only.

Bargaining Unit

If a union is created, does every graduate student automatically become part of it? Would every graduate student feel the effect of it, and if so, in what ways?
If a union is certified, every graduate student who is covered by the bargaining unit ordered by the PLRB—that is, students on academic appointments as TAs, TFs, GSAs, and GSRs—will automatically be in the bargaining unit and covered by the collective bargaining agreement that the union negotiates. There is no way to opt out of the CBA.

As for the second part of the question, we believe the answer is yes. Those in the bargaining unit would be bound by the CBA even if they did not agree with it. They could also lose the ability to work directly with their faculty advisors on things like, stipends, assistantship opportunities, how much time can be spent on a particular research project, and accommodations.

Such limitations could make it harder for the University to work directly with students to address their concerns and questions and make swift decisions that can address each student’s needs, wants, and goals, which are not uniform.

As for students who the hearing examiner excluded from the unit at the Steelworkers’ request —trainees and fellows—the University thinks they could be impacted too. Given the frequent movement between appointments, these students will almost certainly, at some point in their time at Pitt, be covered by the CBA and in the bargaining unit if a union is certified, yet they cannot vote in the election, will not have the opportunity to vote on officers of the union or vote in any sort of ratification process of the CBA that would eventually apply to them. They may also be collaborating on a project with someone who is covered by the CBA and has a restriction on hours they can work on research, which might hinder the progress of the project.

Also see FAQs on:
When votes are held on "provisions" such as the uniform stipend provision you discussed, would only paying union members be eligible to vote?

The University has no say in what voice the union gives to those who choose not to become members of the union or pay dues. It is solely up to the union how much or what type of input members of the bargaining unit are given for the proposals it makes in bargaining. It is also up to the union whether non-members of the union are permitted to vote on the members of the committee who will represent them at the bargaining table and determine what terms are agreed to. Once an agreement on a contract is reached, it generally has to be ratified by members of the bargaining unit, but it is up to the union whether non-members participate in that vote. The Steelworkers International generally only allows dues-paying union members to serve on bargaining committees or as union officers.

Can the University and union negotiate separate contracts for each group, i.e., the TA, TF, GSA, GSR? Has this been done before?
According to the Hearing Examiner’s ruling, the bargaining unit covers all TAs, TFs, GSAs, and GSRs. There will be no separate contracts. Unlike at private universities, Pennsylvania law does not allow for separate units for separate groups of students.
Could you please provide more information about how frequently students switch between roles such as TA/TF/GSA/GSR/fellow and how this varies by school?

Over the course of their studies, most graduate students transition at least once, if not multiple times, between these different roles. In some departments, including a number of programs in Arts & Sciences, students start out as fellows in their first year and then switch to another form of academic appointment, and may have additional fellowships later on. In other schools, there is a clear trajectory in which a student spends two years as a TA and then two years as a fellow, or moves from a TA or fellowship to a GSR. In some cases, a student may not even recognize a transition has occurred—for example, between a GSR and fellow—because the research is the same and there is no noticeable change in anything pertaining to their studies or stipend.

As a fellow, or when you're referring to students who are fellows, are you referring to those who are self-funded?

A fellow, in this case, is a student who is on an individual fellowship grant of some sort, such as an NSF graduate research fellowship or NIH F30s and F31s.

There are other students, who we are referring to as trainees, who are supported by some kind of institutional training grant. In NIH lingo, it's a T32, for example. These fellows and trainees would not be in the bargaining unit as it's currently constructed nor would students who are self-funded.

Is there a way students of the school of medicine can be a separate entity as, I believe, we are a separate case of students from the other schools?

Students in the School of Medicine cannot form their own union under Pennsylvania labor law.  Either all graduate students on academic appointments have to be included in the union or none of them can be. Although each school has some of their own policies that apply to graduate students, the same basic requirements apply to all PhD and masters students and their appointments have the same basic terms. 

If there is a union, students in the School of Medicine, just like students in all other schools, will be bound by the terms that are negotiated for all students and will not be able to negotiate their own terms. That’s why it’s so important for all students to make their voices heard and vote on this critical decision that will impact graduate students at Pitt for generations to come.

Collective Bargaining: Stipends

What kinds of things would be covered by a contract? What would be impacted by union bargaining (stipend, health insurance, time off, etc.)?
See the FAQ page for answers:
If the union collectively bargains with the university over stipend amounts, would all of the graduate students working at the University have to receive the same stipend amount, regardless of program or school? For example, would graduate student researchers in the School of Medicine receive the same stipend as graduate student teaching assistants in the School of Arts and Sciences?
That is possible. We do not know what a collective bargaining agreement would look like but the union could advocate for uniform stipends. The president of the graduate student union at Temple University (TUGSA), which is the only graduate student union at a Pennsylvania public university, has proposed ending higher stipends for students in certain fields. With a union, the University may not be able to change individual stipends and benefits to recruit and retain top students.
Is there any reason to believe that graduate student wages will be affected (either positively or negatively) by a successful unionization vote?
There is no way to know now what the union would propose during collective bargaining negotiations. Stipends could go up, down, or stay the same.
I'm a grad student in a STEM field. How can the union guarantee that pay will not decrease?
The union cannot force the University to agree to anything, just like the University cannot force the union to agree to anything. Collective bargaining is a process where both sides make proposals and come up with an agreement. However, the union cannot guarantee any certain stipend or benefits.
If I voted yes, would it result in a higher stipend? Also how much would it cost us out of our paycheck?
Voting yes does not guarantee a higher stipend. The union cannot guarantee any benefits or changes.

The union determines what dues students will pay. Standard options include having students pay a flat fee or a certain percentage of their graduate student stipend.
Is there actually a legitimate chance that our stipends will decrease (if we choose to not pay dues)?

We cannot predict what kind of changes a collective bargaining agreement might bring if a union is certified. While it is unlikely that stipends would decrease across the board, changes in a contract, and the process of contract negotiations itself, could have the result of putting some or all students behind where they would otherwise be.  

If a union is certified, the parties begin the process of negotiations, which generally takes months and can often take a year or more. While the contract is being negotiated, the parties are in what is called status quo, where the terms governing students appointments are generally frozen.  As a result, during that negotiations period, the stipend increases that the University has given every year would not occur. No increases would occur until the parties reached a final agreement that was ratified by the members of the bargaining unit the union permits to vote. Depending on how long the negotiations take, students could miss out on one or more of these annual increases while the contract is being negotiated.

Students’ stipends also could be impacted in different ways by what is negotiated. For example, at Temple University, stipend levels are set by school/college in the collective bargaining agreement, with students in STEM fields receiving higher stipends. During the last negotiations, the president of TUGSA, the graduate student union, advocated that stipend levels be equalized, eliminating the higher stipends for students in STEM and other fields with greater resources. Such a proposal, if adopted, could result in decreases in the stipends of students in resource-rich programs to match those in less resourced programs that cannot afford to raise stipends to the higher levels. It could also result in a decrease in the number of funded slots that programs can make available to support students.

What number of hours per week is a Pitt GSR stipend meant for?

According to our policy, a GSR appointment is supposed to require, on average, no more than 20 hours of effort on the project indicated. This is separate from any work performed to meet academic goals, which are uncapped. Because the research performed by the majority of students for their GSR appointments is intertwined with, if not indistinguishable from, the student’s academic research, tracking these 20 hours would be difficult or impossible. If a union were certified, it could lead to restrictions on using research performed in connection with GSR appointments for academic purposes.

How will unionization affect students whose salaries are provided for by government grants like NIH, NSF, or DOD?

If a student is receiving a government grant of some sort and is a TA, TF, GSA, or GSR, then that student's stipend would be set at whatever level is specified in a collective bargaining agreement, regardless of the stipend level set forth in the grant.

Students who receive external funding (such as an NSF graduate research fellowship) and are classified as pre-doctoral fellows are outside the bargaining unit. Their stipends would not be regulated by a potential collective bargaining agreement during the period of the fellowship. If their fellowship ended and they moved to a different kind of academic appointment (TA, TF, GSA, GSR), they would be covered by the collective bargaining agreement.  

What part of the bargaining agreement impacts students who are on a fellowship or grant even if only for a year at a time?

A Pitt student supported by a faculty member’s grant would be categorized as a GSR and therefore must follow the collective bargaining agreement. 

The unintended consequences of unionizing are difficult to predict, but students who are fellows or trainees could experience repercussions. For example, let’s say five students in the same department are working on a project and four are in the bargaining unit and one is not. The four students in the bargaining unit may have restrictions on the number of hours they can work on the project. As a result, the student not covered by the bargaining unit may end up performing more of the work.
How will unionizing affect government grants?

PIs would be required to follow the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. When stipends are increased, the additional funds needed to cover the stipend increases to GSRs come from the grants that support the student. According to federal rules, these costs (both the stipend increase and the partial cost of tuition/benefits) must be charged as a direct cost to the grants. In short, this it could result in a decrease in the number of funded slots.

What are the tax effects for graduate students being considered as students vs. employees—can our tuition be taxed?
We don’t know what the implications could be of changes that are made in a collective bargaining with respect to the tax treatment under federal and state law with respect to stipends, tuition, and other benefits.
Why is there a variation in stipend if we have the same job title? That seems prejudicial against some departments.
The University sets minimum stipend levels, and departments can use additional funds for the purpose of attracting and retaining competitive students. A union could limit the ability to do so, resulting in less competitive programs or fewer slots available. Some collective bargaining agreements set uniform stipend levels, while others have stipend levels vary by school or department (like Temple University’s collective bargaining agreement does by school or college).
How do you justify the many graduate student employees are eligible for SNAP benefits and Section 8 housing?

We recognize that financial concerns are among the many factors individuals and families consider in determining if graduate school is the right path for them. By working alongside of our graduate students through formal and informal channels, we have continued our efforts to make the pursuit of an advanced degree attainable for all. Through this collaboration, we have increased graduate stipends by 13 percent over five years and created a Parental Accommodation Policy.

Additionally, for TAs, TFs, GSAs, and GSRs, Pitt has a long tradition of providing students who hold academic appointments a benefits-rich individual health insurance package at no cost. This comprehensive coverage includes an unlimited lifetime maximum benefit, no annual deductible for in-network services, adult and pediatric preventive services, and inpatient hospital visits covered at 100 percent, treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, no-cost prenatal and postnatal maternity services, and gender reassignment services.

Impact of a Union

My stipend is really good, I get UPMC health insurance, in short I have no complaints about my grad life. However, I heard that if the union forms, I might lose out on some of these privileges because of its equal-facilities-for-everyone rule. How much of this is true?
That is a possibility. There is no way to know what the union would propose during collective bargaining or what a collective bargaining agreement would look like. The union could advocate for uniform stipends, as described above. The union could also advocate for other changes that could impact graduate student life, like limitations on research hours or changes in how opportunities are distributed, which could limit access to research projects, conferences, or other opportunities.

Answers to questions like these can also be found on the FAQ page:

Would a union impact my current schedule, such as standardizing hours in lab time?

As described in the previous answer, that is a possibility. The union could advocate for changes that could impact grad life, like limitations on research hours or changes in how opportunities are distributed, which could limit access to research projects, conferences, or other opportunities.

Answers to questions like these can also be found on the FAQ page:
Isn't it true that with union representation graduate employees would have more say in their work than they do now? How would having the choice available to us to join a union somehow mean we have less say? What meaningful say do I have now in my contract? What recourse or power do I have to make my vote heard currently?

A union would actually give students less say, not more, in working with faculty and their programs when issues arise regarding their appointments.  Because the union would be the sole voice of students on issues related to the terms of assistantships, the University would not be able to work directly with students when issues arise. Instead, a third party would decide what terms of appointments to prioritize. And students who don’t join the union and pay dues may not even have a say in what proposals the union makes, who the bargaining committee is, or what the terms of the ultimate contract are. Even when a CBA is in place, the union, not the student, decides whether to pursue or not pursue any action on a student’s complaint. A student would not have recourse of going to the University, as they do now, when some kinds of issues arise. Of course, students will always have the recourse of going to the University directly for Title IX concerns.

You stated the contract would block flexibility. Can you describe what flexibility we have now that would be removed?

Currently, departments can specify stipend levels, provide additional support for students, and work with students to adjust assignments, schedules and expectations, make assignments that aid the student’s academic and professional development and interests, among other things. If a union is certified, the University would be limited in its ability to deal directly with students regarding their assistantships and will have to follow contractual processes instead.

A "one-size-fits-all approach" is frequently mentioned on your FAQ page. Can you better define this? I am struggling to see how collectively bargaining over things like sexual harassment policy or more precise policy about transparency in decision making would somehow make thing difficult in any one department.
The University believes that stipends and benefits would be subject to bargaining. Hours of work may also be addressed. So, all graduate students could be subject to the exact same rules, as opposed to students being able to work with advisors based on individualized conditions or experiences that are the hallmarks of a graduate education. A union could also limit the ability of faculty to flexibly work with students based on their individualized needs. For example, if there is a limitation on hours of work for research, a student may not be able to work on a particular project in the field where the hours of work would exceed what is in the collective bargaining agreement.

A list of issues that are not subject to bargaining can be found in Collective Bargaining Basics.
Do you have any specific evidence to back up the claim on your union FAQ site that “A union may limit the ability of the University and its faculty to work directly with graduate students and agree upon individualized conditions, accommodations or experiences that are the hallmarks of a graduate education.”
Because graduate education is individualized, there is the possibility that things will change between a student and his/her faculty advisor if there is a union. First, the law prohibits certain interactions between faculty and students about items covered by the collectively bargaining agreement, so the ability to talk about stipends and benefits would be restricted. In other places, research is excluded from collective bargaining units, so there is not the issue that could be present here of students having to forgo projects or limit their time on projects due to hourly limits on research or potential union proposals that could change the way opportunities are distributed.
What does the administration plan to do with its reported budget surplus?
Like every college and university, our campus requires maintenance, renovation, upgrades, and in some cases new buildings. Surpluses in our operating budget historically have been reinvested for these types of projects and enable us to continue offering students and faculty members a world-class learning environment. You can learn more about the Pitt budget in Fact Book 2019.

This is, however, not a unionization issue. The University’s budget is not something that the union could negotiate over.
Why do some TAs teach so much more than others? In the modern languages, for instance, TAs teach three three-credit courses per year [a total of nine credits per year] while in other units they only teach two per year. This seems unfair and wrong.
Different departments have different expectations for the amount of teaching associated with a TA appointment, with the expectation that teaching should not exceed 20 hours per week on average. Within this limit, different departments and programs can tailor expectations to meet the needs of individual students and their career goals. For example, in fields in which more teaching experience is beneficial for job prospects, expectations of TAs may be more extensive than in fields in which less teaching experience is expected. In addition, a significant number of programs require teaching experience, including being a TA, as an academic degree requirement.
What part of the bargaining agreement impacts students who are on a fellowship or grant even if only for a year at a time?

A Pitt student supported by a faculty member’s grant would be categorized as a GSR and therefore must follow the collective bargaining agreement.  

The unintended consequences of unionizing are difficult to predict, but students who are fellows or trainees could experience repercussions. For example, let’s say five students in the same department are working on a project and four are in the bargaining unit and one is not. The four students in the bargaining unit may have restrictions on the number of hours they can work on the project. As a result, the student not covered by the bargaining unit may end up performing more of the work.
There are many opportunities such as Nationality Room Summer Research Abroad Fellowships, which are not open to international students. What is Pitt doing to address this material discrimination against international students.
Pitt is committed to the success of its international students. Many sources, by law, prohibit funds from serving international students. However, Pitt works with international students to provide alternative funding opportunities when possible.

Contracts

How often will contracts be renegotiated?

There is no set length of time for collective bargaining agreements, but it is common for them to last two to five years.

Is there any opportunity to amend the contract after the fact?

Once a contract is reached, which typically takes months or even years, it remains in place for the term of the contract, which is often two to five years. During the term of the contract, one of the parties can request, but not require, the other side to reopen negotiations. Generally, that does not occur, and changes in the contract have to wait for the next negotiating session, if both parties agree to the change. Even when the contract expires, changes are not made to the terms unless both parties agree to them.

Strike

You state in the FAQ that "The union has the right to call for a strike. If this occurs, graduate student stipends, health benefits, and tuition waivers could be suspended. Strikes can also interrupt and even prolong the time needed to complete scholarly work." Don't the graduate students have the right to vote on such a thing? Why would they strike unless they felt it was necessary?
The union has the right to call for a strike, and how strike votes are conducted is decided exclusively by the union. Typically, only members of the union (those who pay dues) have the right to vote on whether to strike, even though a decision to strike can have an impact on everyone. If a strike occurs, graduate student stipends, health benefits, and tuition waivers could be suspended. Strikes can also interrupt and even prolong the time needed to complete scholarly work.
In case of a prolonged strike, are F-1 visa holders vulnerable to being deported? If so, how would you protect us? If not, could you please make that clear?
The University is committed to supporting our international students in their academic endeavors, even if there were a graduate student strike. Pitt has an office entirely devoted to supporting its international community—the Office of International Services (OIS). OIS serves all 4,500 international students, scholars, staff, and faculty and provides immigration-related services to ensure immigration issues are taken care of smoothly, quickly, and correctly.

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. A union cannot change the U.S. government’s authority to make these decisions.

Dues

How much will the union charge students? Will everyone be required to pay union dues?

Multiple questions were submitted asking, if a union were elected, about union dues:

  • How much will the union charge students?
  • Will everyone be required to pay union dues?
  • What will union dues be, and how often will they increase?
  • How will dues be paid if the union is formed? Will it come directly out of my account or will it be a separate payment?
  • Can I opt out and not pay?
As indicated on our FAQ page, the union determines the dues students will pay. Standard options include having students pay a flat fee or a certain percentage of their graduate student stipend. The University has no say in the amount or structure of the dues. All questions about dues mechanisms are best directed to the Pitt Graduate Student Organizing Committee.
What legal courses do I have if this unionization takes place and the University requires me to pay union dues?
The University does not require anyone to pay dues. The union is the entity that would ask members to pay dues or fair-share fees and determine what the rights are of people who do not pay dues.
Why don't you mention that the union is "forced" to represent workers even if they don't pay dues?

If a union is certified, it would be the sole entity that could deal with the University regarding the terms of appointments for all students in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether those students join the union or pay dues. At Temple University, for example, which has the only graduate student union under Pennsylvania labor law, only about 13 percent of the students in the bargaining unit are members of the union or pay dues, but the union still controls the terms of assistantships for all students in the unit.

Unions have a duty of fair representation to all members of the bargaining unit. That does not mean, however, that they have to treat members and non-members alike. For example, unions can, and often do, allow only members to hold union office, serve on bargaining committees, or vote on contract ratification. That means the voices of non-members may be silenced when important decisions are made that will control the appointment terms for the entire unit. The Steelworkers International imposes these kinds of restrictions in its constitution. In addition, if a non-member believes the contract has been violated, it is up to the union to decide whether to expend union resources to represent them, as unions generally insist that it is the union, not the individual, that decides whether and how far to pursue a claim under a contractual grievance procedure. 

Will union dues be considered a tax-deductible business expense?

The University cannot provide students with tax advice, but it is our understanding that union dues would not be tax deductible under federal tax law.

Title IX

Will you resist the Dept. of Ed's proposed cuts to Title IX?
Yes, see the Chancellor's statement on this issue.
Isn't it true that several people in the Title IX department ALSO respond to Title VII complaints?
Yes, some do address other issues of discrimination and harassment.
Could the union force the University to improve Title IX services?

A union cannot bargain over the University’s Title IX services, either the level of staffing or how it responds to complaints. 

Union contracts sometimes include boilerplate language that the employer will comply with civil rights laws, an already existing legal obligation. The University over many years has demonstrated a stronger commitment to address sexual misconduct than mere legal compliance. This commitment has been demonstrated through sustained and continued investment in Title IX staff, education, formal policy, and resources. For example, for many years, University policy has prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, categories not expressly addressed in federal law.

There have been erroneous reports that there are only two people on staff in Pitt’s Title IX office. However, it’s important to be clear: Pitt’s Title IX office employs five full-time staff members. In addition to this team, regional campus liaisons, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the University Counseling Center, and Student Affairs staff are fully trained to, and do, help address Title IX concerns.

Because we are committed to changing the culture, Pitt has a history of listening to students on this issue. We continue to encourage all members of the Pitt community, including our graduate students, to talk with the Title IX team about concerns and improvement needs they have identified.

Additional information and resources are available on the Title IX page. A recent @Pitt article also gives a good overview of our Title IX Office.

Parental Accommodations

Graduate students that are parents have had an incredibly hard time finding appropriate family care, what has Pitt done for parent-grads?
Pitt has developed a parental accommodations policy—which we created in concert with parents who are graduate students. This policy allows students to have a six-week period following the birth of a child in which normal deadlines and milestones can be delayed, while the student remains a full-time student. We also work one-on-one with graduate students whenever possible to address their unique needs.

We recognize that finding high-quality childcare in Pittsburgh is challenging for all our faculty, staff, and students. The availability of childcare is a problem that seems beyond the scope of a graduate student union.

PLRB

It seems like you are characterizing the PLRB as an outside influence that is restricting our ability to have the fairest election possible. Can you explain why, as an organization who has a vested interest in one outcome, you are suggesting that you would make better decisions for an unbiased election than the PLRB?
The University is not questioning the PLRB’s ability to run a fair election. The University believes that the decision by the hearing examiner to order an election of teaching assistants, teaching fellows, graduate student assistants, and graduate student researchers was wrong for two reasons.

First, we believe that graduate students, like medical residents, interns, and fellows, cannot unionize under the controlling Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent.

Second, we believe that the distinction the hearing examiner made between fellows and trainees and GSRs is not one that reflects the reality of the graduate student experience and the frequency with which students move between different types of appointments over the course of their academic programs.

University Position

Many students asked that we clarify the University’s position on the unionization of graduate students.

The University some time ago stated its concerns that unionization would not be in the interest of students or the University.

That said, whatever happens in this process, the University is committed to graduate education. We want our students to be successful. We want our graduate students to learn what they need to learn in order to go out and have an impact within their fields, the community, and society. That commitment and that value will not change, no matter what the outcome of the election process is. We are invested in the success of our graduate students and want to make sure that success translates and propels them beyond the University into the broader society.

These questions are also addressed in the following FAQs:

In official emails to faculty and graduate students, the administration has stated that the University is taking a neutral stance with regards to unionization efforts.

The University has taken an official position against a graduate student union, because in our opinion a union is not in the best interests of the students or the University. The University has been neutral on the question of faculty unionization.

Why is the University so intent on union-busting? Why not simply let graduate students conduct a democratic vote?
The University is not anti-union and is not preventing a vote by graduate students, which will take place on April 15–18. The University encourages all eligible students to vote and make their voices heard. However, we believe that graduate students, like medical residents, interns, and fellows, cannot unionize under the controlling Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent.

In addition, the University wants students to make an informed choice when they vote. We believe that the union organizers are presenting a biased view on the costs and benefits of unionization. The union clearly has interest (financial and other) in having the students unionize. We think it is important to present the alternative views so students have the facts when they make this important decision. 
Why is the University administration so against unionizing? What are concrete points against unionizing?

The University believes that unionization will introduce a third party between students and their programs and advisors. Items covered by the contract cannot be modified locally through discussions between individual faculty and students. We do not believe that this is in the best interest of current students, future students, or the University.

Why did you hire Ballard Spahr and how much are you paying them?
The University routinely utilizes outside counsel with expertise in particular topics. Ballard Spahr is one example, and we have worked with them for the last 10 years on a variety of issues—not just unionization. Hiring counsel that offers expertise is not an issue that the union could bargain over.
Does the University plan on continuing to take legal recourse if graduate students vote yes to form a union? Will they appeal or take this decision to court?
Once the election results are certified, we will determine next courses of action. The University’s focus now is on ensuring graduate students make an informed decision and exercise their right to vote.