Pittsburgh graduate students fall short in union bid

PITTSBURGH — The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate assistants at the University of Pittsburgh fell short in a 2019 effort to unionize.

University officials disclosed the ruling involving graduate student employees Tuesday and said that effectively ends the drive to organize assistants who teach, do research and engage in other endeavors.

Union organizers, however, say they are appealing.

The United Steelworkers several years ago petitioned the labor board for an election, citing card campaign numbers indicating that at least 30% of the potential bargaining unit supported the idea of a union. But the bid fell more than three dozen votes short of approval in an election held over four days in 2019.

The union and student organizers appealed, accusing university officials of tactics discouraging the vote. University officials said they did nothing inappropriate. The board ultimately concluded that management actions weren’t enough to affect the election result. The board’s final ruling upheld that decision.

The Steelworkers said Wednesday they are “already in the process” of appealing. In 2019, the Department of Labor and Industry, which includes the labor relations board, told the newspaper that a board ruling could be appealed to Commonwealth Court and ultimately the state Supreme Court.

The Steelworkers are also trying to unionize University of Pittsburgh faculty members in a separate campaign. Voting in that effort has begun and is slated to continue through Oct. 12.