Lawmakers Back Union Drive at Pennsylvania University

A delegation of Pennsylvania lawmakers continues stepping up to support workers at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) as they seek to join our union.

Starting in 2016, graduate assistants sought better pay and working conditions through organizing. Pitt’s administration hired a union-busting law firm, spending more than $2.1 million to stall and delay the effort.

Those actions helped result in a narrow loss in the election in 2019. Our union petitioned the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB), alleging the university had committed a number of unfair labor practices. We received a favorable ruling, but appeals continue today.

Frustrated by the fact that Pitt – a university that receives a portion of their funding from taxpayer dollars – interfered with the campaign, lawmakers stepped in.

A delegation of PA lawmakers who continue stepping up to support workers at the University of Pittsburgh as they seek to join our union.

Top Row, Left to Right: Emily Kinkead (HD-20), Dan Miller (HD-42), Austin Davis (HD-35), Dan Frankel (HD-23). Bottom Row, Left to Right: Dan Deasy (HD-27), Jessica Benham (HD-36), Nick Pisciottano (HD-38). Center: Jay Costa (SD-43)

One of those lawmakers, State Rep. Jessica Benham (HD-36), was a former graduate student at Pitt and part of our Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC). She publicly challenged the administration’s use of a union-buster for the campaign and took it to task for its actions.

Her colleague, Rep. Dan Miller (HD-42), a former member of our union, pushed legislation to challenge the use of taxpayer dollars for anti-union activity and spearheaded other actions amongst lawmakers to urge the university to let the workers decide on their own.

Rep. Austin Davis (HD-35), the chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Delegation for the state house, worked hand-in-hand with USW organizers to assemble a meeting with key lawmakers throughout the region so they could hear directly from Pitt graduate student employees, faculty members and staff who are seeking representation.

Following this meeting, Representatives Davis, Benham, and Miller, along with State Senators Lindsay Williams (SD-38) and Jay Costa (SD-43), and others, increased their efforts to urge Pitt administrators to remain neutral during the faculty organizing effort. Each of these lawmakers earned our backing in past elections for their support of workers’ rights.

We’re happy to report that 3,300 Pitt faculty members recently won their campaign, with a resounding 71 percent voting in favor of joining our union.

Once their first contract is negotiated, Pitt’s faulty union will be the largest new union of any kind in the country.

Maria Somma, Director of the USW’s Organizing Department, believes the lawmakers’ actions helped build greater solidarity among faculty leading into the election and grew public support that served as a buffer, protecting faculty from the tactics employers often use during organizing drives.

Somma also believes these alliances will be crucial to faculty as they work to bargain their first contract, as well as other groups of workers at Pitt who are seeking a union.

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-2446

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222