Students show up for faculty union contract rally


Photo by Mason Strawn

A full-time faculty union member passes out union literature to students on Tuesday, Oct. 26.

Written By Zack Lawry, Co-Sports Editor

On Tuesday, Oct. 26, the Point Park full-time faculty union held a demonstration in front of the Student Center to draw attention to the then-ongoing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations, less than one week before they reached a tentative agreement.

This demonstration came after five months of negotiations between the union and university since June of this year and was held right outside of the Student Center, where the university’s Board of Trustees was meeting. The two sides had met a total of 23 times prior to the demonstration without coming to a complete consensus on any offer.

Elizabeth Bennett, a union member and Assistant Professor of Psychology, described what the faculty wanted out of a renegotiated contract.

“[We want] a salary that’s on par with cost of living increases and on par with sister institutions,” Bennett said. “Respectable and fair retirement contributions, job security, understanding that our university administration values tenure as the important job security that it is for faculty, and that we’re not going to become an institution that’s cutting faculty to replace us with contingent workers.”

Bob Ross, a member of the union bargaining committee and Professor of Literary Arts and Social Justice Studies, said that the faculty is pushing for higher pay to meet higher costs of living.

“We’ve seen tuition increase, we’ve seen the cost of living increase, we’ve seen the number of faculty decrease, and our salaries have also not increased,” Ross said. “We want to be paid what we deserve. We want to be paid what will keep us here, we want to be paid enough to do our jobs.”

The demonstration began at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday and was announced earlier in the day by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh TNG-CWA Local 38061, which represents the Point Park full-time faculty union. The Guild issued a press release earlier in the day detailing the union’s objectives.

“Union members, allies and supporters will be calling on the University’s cooperation in providing full-time faculty a fair contract,” the release from October 26, prior to the tentative contract, said. “As it stands, faculty salaries are not near parity with peer institutions.”

At the demonstration, Bennett spoke about her dissatisfaction with the university’s negotiation practices up to that point.

“The university is effectively refusing to negotiate with faculty in a humane and respectful way,” she said. “It honestly adds insult to injury after the year we’ve been through with COVID and [after the] faculty sacrificed so much to make our educational experiences exceptional here.”

When asked for comment, the university itself continued to adhere to its policy of not discussing negotiations publicly but did provide the following statement on Wednesday, Oct. 27:

“Point Park University continues to negotiate with full-time faculty representation in a good-faith effort to reach an agreement on a new contract.”

A number of faculty and students gathered in front of the Student Center for the protest. Faculty members wore red shirts with the words “FACULTY CONTRACT NOW!” printed on the front in white letters and passed out literature with information about the contract negotiations and the faculty’s concerns.

“It is our belief that everyone deserves to be valued by their place of work–we ask our institution to respect the value we add to the education process,” the literature read.

This literature was handed out to students passing by and held up by some students who joined in on the demonstration to support their instructors. Emily Harnett, the President of COPA Theatre Club, spread word about the event, encouraging some students to take part in the rally, including June Almonte and Anna Skeels.

Almonte, a senior acting Major, said at the rally that they thought that full-time faculty deserved a new contract, especially after uncertainty last year when COVID-19 significantly impacted learning at Point Park.

“I know our teachers work so hard, I know our teachers have been trying to adjust because of this pandemic, and they’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices and a lot of changes. And they deserve to be on contracts where they know they’re protected no matter what,” Almonte said.

Sophomore theatre arts major Anna Skeels explained that the measures faculty were demanding would also help to bolster the security of students’ educations.

“I think that for students, it’s the security of having our professors here and ready to work,” Skeels said. “They don’t have to worry about compensation, they don’t have to worry about their benefits. They know what they’ve got, they know they’re safe, and they know they’re in a university that’s going to fight for them.”

In addition to student support, Elizabeth Bennett advocated for further unity among faculty in the future while speaking at the rally.

“As someone who is in one of the most vulnerable positions possible as a pre-tenure faculty member who is relatively new to the institution, seeing faculty coming together in stronger displays of support and solidarity would be amazing, because we’re not going to get anything done until it’s all faculty speaking together,” she said.

Lacretia Wimbley, President of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, said that many of the faculty union’s concerns had existed for a long time.

“For years, full-time faculty union members have not been at parity as far as compensation with their peer institutions here in the city of Pittsburgh,” Wimbley said on October 26. “The administration has used the pandemic as an excuse for that, and it’s no secret that the pandemic hit all of us hard. But the university has received millions of dollars in COVID relief funding. We still haven’t received full transparency on all the ways in which they have used that money. We just feel like, because of that lack of transparency… that’s not an excuse to not pay faculty members what they’re due for fair compensation.”

Ross also spoke at the event about the potential consequences of not re-negotiating the contract, saying that higher pay and other benefits are important to maintaining faculty at Point Park.

“This contract should reflect our dedication to our students, our interests and our students’ interests,” Ross said. “If we have job security, we can make commitments to the students, we can be their professors for all four years that they’re here. If we’re paid what our peers at other institutions are paid, we won’t leave for another job, we’ll stay here.”

Although a new contract was the focus of the union’s demonstration, it has not been the only source of contention that faculty have had with school administration.

Shared governance has also emerged as a major point of discussion in negotiations, according to Karen Dwyer, a member of the union negotiating team and full-time Literary Arts and Social Justice professor.

“Overall, one of our higher priorities was shared governance and it remains shared governance,” Dwyer said on October 26. “Shared governance is something that we felt had eroded and corroded over the course of particularly the last four years, but also especially this last year and a half.”

As stated before, a contract was agreed to several days after the demonstration. A vote on the new contract is scheduled to happen on Wednesday, November 10.