Tentative new contract struck between Point Park full-time faculty union and university

Faculty union members set to vote on contract on November 10; simple majority of faculty vote needed to ratify new deal

Written By Amanda Andrews, Editor-in-Chief

The Point Park full-time faculty union and the university have agreed to a tentative contract after months of negotiations.

Both the union and the university confirmed that the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was reached on Saturday, Oct. 30. However, with the faculty still needing to vote on the new contract, not everything is necessarily set in stone.

This contract is the second in the history of the Point Park full-time faculty union, which is directly associated with the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh TNG-CWA Local 38061. A collective bargaining agreement establishes the terms of employment for 117 Point Park full-time faculty members and covers—but is not limited to—policies for tenure, benefits, retirement and terminations. If there are any disputes involving the CBA, both the university and the union will have a third party step in and make a decision, a legal process otherwise known as arbitration.

As of Monday, Nov. 1, many details of the new agreement were unclear as the university and union were in the process of distributing the new contract to the faculty and organizing a formal, public announcement.

However, J. Dwight Hines, Chair of the Executive Committee with the full-time faculty and a professor in the Department of Literary Arts and Social Justice Studies, shed some light on a few of the contract’s provisions that are different from the first CBA that expired on June 30, 2021.

“We had a really solid agreement the first time around. It being our first contract, we were very pleased with what we got in that round, but this was only better,” Hines said. “We were able to establish a number of minimum salaries for our professors at all ranks well higher than [what] they previously were, we were able to negotiate substantial wage increases for all of our faculty over the three-year life of the contract. We were also able to negotiate parental leave, which was previously something we never had as a faculty. And those three [things] alone make it a significant improvement over what we previously had.”

The first CBA, the full-time faculty union has said, was approved and ratified after around 40 sessions that stretched over 17 months. This agreement took 25 bargaining sessions over the course of five months, beginning in June of this year, according to faculty unit delegate and photography lecturer Ben Schonberger.

The last bargaining session was held this past Saturday afternoon and took around an hour and a half. The precise expiration date for this new proposed contract could not be provided.

“The negotiation team, we feel good about it,” Schonberger said. “We wouldn’t have accepted it if we didn’t. We would not have accepted anything less. So hopefully, I think our faculty trust us enough that they know we wouldn’t bring anything to them that we didn’t think was valuable.”

While the full-time faculty had received notice that a tentative contract had been reached, on Monday, those who were not a part of the union bargaining committee did not know the specifics of what had been agreed to at the negotiating table.

Matt Pascal, a mathematics professor and formerly the faculty assembly president for five years, said at that stage in the negotiations, complete transparency was not to be expected.

“I’m okay with that because that’s their role in this process. They can’t involve everybody,” Pascal said. “And so we elected the people who would go to the table on our side, and I think that the outcome of that election was a good one. And so I trust them.”

Now that a tentative contract has been recognized by the university and the union, the faculty members will have until Wednesday, November 10 to read and review the new contract. At least one question and answer session for faculty is supposed to be held during this period of time.

On November 10, the faculty will reportedly cast their votes either for or against the agreement in-person on campus. An exact space for the faculty vote has not been determined at this time, but the faculty union is working with the administration to establish a location. Certain union members will count the votes.

It will take a simple majority, or 50% plus one, of the full-time faculty voting for the new CBA for it to become ratified. If, for any reason, not enough faculty members vote for the new CBA, negotiators for both sides will have to go back to the table to try and come up with a new offer.

“I’m grateful that I’ve got colleagues who are willing to put in such a strong effort on our behalf because I know that it’s a giant heap of work that they have to put in, aside from the giant heap of work that we already do in teaching a minimum of four classes,” Pascal said.

The unofficial end of the bargaining sessions comes after months of significant developments in relations between union and university leaders, including the attempted layoffs of 17 full-time faculty members in February, the overruling of that university decision in May and, most recently, a rally of at least 30 to 40 different students and faculty members demanding a new contract while the Board of Trustees met on Tuesday, Oct. 26. Just days later, a tentative agreement was found by both sides.

Hines said he believes that the student participation in the demonstration helped the union and university “push it over the finish line” in coming together on a proposal.

“It’s hard to tell in these types of events, I think, definitively what caused the deal to be done when it finally got done,” he said. “The action we had last week….It’s a good example that I would use in my classes as the power of people working together for a common goal. And having the students turn out in the numbers that they did, I think that has to be recognized as a factor and it really speaks to the power of us collectively to see good things done for ourselves if we pull in the same direction.”

Bess Saunders, a senior sports, arts and entertainment management (SAEM) major and commuter student, said that she only was able to hear from someone else about the faculty demonstration on Tuesday but was pleased to hear about the faculty finding a deal with the administration.

“I’m happy that they have some job security. Obviously, I think that’s what everyone deserves, some job security, especially in this time with COVID. We’re still facing so many repercussions of it given we’re still in COVID, it’s not post COVID,” Saunders said. “We’re still facing that from that immediate quarantine…and I think, especially right now, they should not be worried about being fired for no reason, and they should be making a decent pay.”

The union and university on Monday said they would be putting out a joint, public statement soon with more information about the CBA.

“Every member of the Point Park University community is focused on the mission of providing our students with a world-class education, and this agreement is a clear symbol of that,” President Donald Green said in a statement. “From my first day on campus, I have been impressed with our full-time faculty, and I look forward to continue working with each one of them to grow our distinctive, innovative University in the heart of Downtown.”

Green and Provost Michael Soto did not engage in contract negotiations at any point, according to the union. However, Lou Corsaro, the Managing Director of University Marketing and Public Relations, said previously to The Globe that former President Paul Hennigan and former Provost John Pearson also did not participate in talks when the first CBA was reached.

If the new CBA is officially ratified, it will conclude a busy year for the legal teams and representatives of the university and union.

“Being an employee at Point Park University, you can find this has been a roller coaster of emotions and difficulties and big wins and big highs and big lows. And it’s just been all of that,” Schonberger said. “And it’s unfortunate that it’s been such a labor to get the contract enforced and then to get a new contract. But in the end, it’s a good feeling.”