Arbitration testimonies between university and full-time faculty union set to begin this week

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-in-Chief

At a press conference on Friday, April 2, members of the full-time faculty union provided updates regarding the arbitration process between the union and the university—a process that could result in the reinstatement of 17 faculty members who received letters of non-renewal from the university. 

“We are in the process of negotiating the arbitration,” J. Dwight Hines, professor of social justice and the full-time faculty union president, said. “We have our hearing set for next week. We’re confident that it will be wrapped up in relatively short order, and we’re hoping that the decision from the arbiter would come as late as early June.”

The university confirmed that the arbitration hearing is set for Wednesday, April 7.

Arbitration is defined as the use of an arbitrator, or a neutral third-party, to settle disputes. This particular arbitration is to settle the dispute of whether or not the 17 faculty non-renewals were done in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the union and the university. Arbitration for disputes regarding the CBA is also a process that is laid out within the CBA itself.

Article 29 of the CBA, titled “Grievance and Arbitration Procedure,” states that should a dispute arise between the union and the university, a grievance may be filed by either the union, the university or an individual faculty member, though a request for mediation and arbitration can only be filed by the union or the university. Section four of the article lays out a series of steps and a timeline for a filed grievance. Third party arbitration is step four. 

The CBA states that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) is to serve as the neutral third party. 

“The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, created in 1947, is an independent agency whose mission is to preserve and promote labor-management peace and cooperation,” reads the FMCS website. 

The CBA, including Article 29 which details the whole grievance and arbitration process, can be read here:

At the press conference, the President of the NewsPaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents both the full-time faculty union and the newsroom at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Lacretia Wimbley, gave the union’s official request to the university. 

“The union’s position here is that we’re requesting that university leaders rescind all position eliminations of full-time faculty,” Wimbley said.

Currently, it is unclear whether or not full-time faculty positions are being eliminated. The university administration has stated that this is not the case, saying that eventually, the positions will be refilled. However, the full-time faculty union believes that the faculty non-renewals are really position eliminations, with the university foregoing position elimination procedures laid out in Article 31 of the CBA.

“If these eliminations stand, along with faculty who recently took a retirement incentive, the full-time faculty unit will have been reduced by over 20%, and that’s a huge margin,” Wimbley said.

According to the university, the reduction of the non-renewals combined with faculty members who have taken retirement packages is 18%.

Full-time faculty union delegate and lecturer of photography, Ben Schonberger, was also present at the press conference. Schonberger is one of the 17 faculty members to receive a letter of non-renewal. 

“This is my fifth year working at Point Park,” Schonberger said. “And when I first took my position as an instructor at Point Park, they paid me $25,000 for the entire year to teach five classes in the fall and five classes in the spring, and that is probably the lowest salary I’ve ever seen for a full-time faculty member ever.”

“The University, as a matter of policy, does not disclose salaries of any employees,” university spokesman Lou Corsaro, said. “I can tell you that minimum salaries are part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and we use College and University Professional Association information to establish salary benchmarking.”

The CBA does outline the minimum base salary for full-time faculty, based on their position. Schonberger is a lecturer, and the CBA’s minimum base salary for lecturers for the 2020-2021 school year is $43,000. The CBA includes base salaries from years past, but only going back three years to 2017-2018, where lecturers’ minimum base salaries were $40,000. 

Schonberger also reiterated the union’s belief that the faculty non-renewals were done in an attempt to “undermine the spirit” of the union as it prepares to renegotiate the CBA over the summer.

“My dean and chair have already told the BFA photo students that they have part-time faculty lined up in my absence,” Schonberger said. “And I just can’t help but think that these non-renewals and this attempt by management is not only an attempt to really wreck and destroy the spirit of the full-time faculty and the CBA, before we go into another round of collective bargaining, but it was also an opportunity for management to pit senior faculty vs. junior faculty vs. non-tenured track faculty in an effort to encourage more people to retire early and take a buyout.”

Since the announcement of the 17 non-renewals, the university has maintained that they were issued due to economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and lowered enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Other speakers at the press conference included two other affected faculty members, Kendra Ross, a professor of sports, arts and entertainment management (SAEM) and Marion Dixon, a professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

“One thing that I found very disappointing was that there were students, many students, who were given the idea and the notion that many of us were being dismissed for the purposes of academic quality, that there was an issue with our performance,” Ross said. “That was later dispelled by management, but because messaging has not been clear, because there has been a lot of shifting and crafting of the narrative, that idea still circulates in some ways.”

During the Student Government Association (SGA) sponsored town hall with members of the administration, including President Paul Hennigan, on March 16, this issue was addressed.

“None of these faculty were not renewed because they did a poor job,” Acting Provost Jonas Prida said during the first town hall. “Every one of these people was an excellent faculty person. It had nothing to do with performance and had everything to do with the fact that we’re in a pandemic, there was a budget concern and we didn’t want the entire university to close.”

Dixon spoke to express concerns about staffing in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, which resides within the School of Arts and Sciences. 

“We have three full-time faculty members, two of whom are social scientists, and have received letters,” Dixon said. “So if these non-renewals go through, if the administration gets its way, our department will be left with one full-time faculty member, and it’s very uncertain, the future of our department.”

“All the colleges had people that were affected,” Hines said. “It was disproportionately inflicted upon the School of Arts and Sciences, who had almost half of the faculty that were there be affected, coming from their ranks. So it’s a significant effect upon that school, particularly in the majors thereof, so it’ll be a dramatic hit going forward.”

The administration has previously stated its belief that with the use of independent studies, as well as hiring part-time and visiting full-time faculty, students’ class selection and course offerings will be minimally affected. 

“The idea that you can make up these classes with independent study is patently ludicrous, because that puts too great of a burden on the rest of the existing study to pick up the load,” Hines said.