Point Park full-time faculty union votes in favor of new contract 72-0

Contract will last 3 years

Written By Zack Lawry, Co-News Editor

The months-long process to strike a contract between the Point Park full-time faculty union and the university came to an official end Wednesday, Nov. 10 when the faculty union voted 72-0 to accept a new collective bargaining agreement with the school.

The vote took place on the fourth floor of Lawrence Hall from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., allowing faculty union members to stop by at any point within that window to cast their ballots. The vote decided whether the union would accept the tentative agreement made at the end of October or continue negotiating with the school.

President Don Green provided a statement of the result via a press release later that day.

“With this vote, full-time faculty have shown they are just as energized as I am to move forward and build a vibrant and successful future for Point Park University,” Green said.

Ben Schonberger, a photography lecturer who was both a member of the faculty union’s negotiation team and delegate for full-time faculty until October 31, said he is satisfied with the new agreement.

“I am satisfied with the deal,” Schonberger said. “I think it’s a good three year contract. I think it builds upon the successes of the last contract while maintaining its integrity, and I think it does a lot for the faculty in regard to how our work is governed.”

Schonberger’s approval of the new agreement was shared by the rest of the faculty, as evidenced by the result of the vote from the members who voted. According to a press release from The Newspaper Guild Local 38061 and Point Park University, full-time faculty who participated voted unanimously in favor of the new contract 72-0. The contract will last for three years.

This result did not come as a surprise to many of the faculty union members, as all who were asked during the vote expressed confidence that the faculty union would pass the new contract.

George Bromall, a professor in the Rowland School of Business and founding member of the union, was among those who believed that the contract would pass.

In light of the vote, Bromall recalled the 2004 unionization vote that started the faculty union.

“The university administration told the Board of Trustees, and this was told to me by a member of the board that I’m friendly with, that the union would be lucky to get 20 votes,” Bromall said of the vote held in 2004 for the full-time faculty to unionize. “I told him it would be the other way around. And, as it turned out, they didn’t get 20 votes.”

As Bromall predicted, only 14 votes were cast against unionization in 2004, far below the 49 in favor, according to the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh.

William Breslove, a professor of business management and another founding member of the union, was pleased with the agreement, though he felt there was still room for growth.

“I’m very happy with it,” Breslove said. “I would have liked it to have happened faster. I would like to see the next 10 years of evolution take place in the next 10 minutes, but I’m not sure that it will. But I mean, I have faith in the goodwill or the good intentions of everybody involved, so I suspect that it’ll evolve in the way that it needs to.”

Bromall also echoed this sentiment.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said.” It’ll probably take five or six contracts to really get to the point where the faculty is accepted and has a real position in the university.”

Schonberger also noted that, even with this new agreement, Point Park full-time faculty are still paid less than other institutions in Pittsburgh.

“It’s getting us closer to a fair wage—closer to fair. We’re still the lowest paid faculty in the city,” he said.

Dwight Hines, a professor in the department of Literary Arts and Social Justice Studies and chair of the Union Executive Committee, said that another issue that was contentious throughout the negotiation process was the recognition of Juneteenth as a school holiday.

“We wanted better recognition of the Juneteenth holiday,” Hines said. “[The University was] so adamantly opposed to us recognizing that as a school holiday. It still stands out to us. We don’t know why … We were still able to negotiate this agreement that allows us to take the day off if you still recognize it yourself and do so by providing an EIO.”

Hines said that this issue specifically is indicative of the give-in-take involved in negotiations as a whole.

“It’s probably the quintessential example of giving a little to get a little on both sides,” he said. “It’s kind of meeting in the middle so to speak. So, in that case, it could be seen as a win on both sides, but not a perfect win.”

Still, Hines said he believes that the positives in the new agreement outweigh the negatives.

“I think I can speak for the negotiating team on that, and speaking personally for sure, we’re very pleased, absolutely, adamantly excited by what we got,” Hines said. “We conceded virtually nothing. We were able to negotiate gains, if not the maintenance, of virtually everything that we found most key. We maintained our healthcare benefits and maintained our retirement benefits. We were able to gain compensation … for salary percentage increases and in salary minimum [wage], two different facets of the salaries we get. We were also then able to negotiate the new parental leave, which was a significant step, we never had something like that at this university. We were able to get four weeks for parents of both foster and birth.”

Additionally, Hines also said that they kept the protection clause that helped to protect 17 full-time faculty who received letters of non-renewal from the university earlier this year.

“We were able to keep the protection clauses that kept them from firing those faculty last [school] year from our previous agreement. We were able to maintain those, so we were thoroughly pleased,” he said.

Ben Schonberger was among those 17 full-time faculty members who was nearly laid off, which he said provided him with further motivation to negotiate a new contract.

“It motivated me to work even harder, to hold the line and to voice the needs of the faculty that do feel vulnerable, the ones that were put into this position. It really motivated me to stick with it harder and longer than anybody would have wanted to,” Schonberger said. “It’s like, you get fired and then you’re working to not only negotiate a good contract for your wants, but you’re negotiating for all faculty. I’m negotiating for people that make double what I make who wouldn’t ever get fired just because enrollment is down. So, staying visible and being determined to see this through was one of the hardest, most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my professional life, and I mean that seriously.”

April Friges, an associate professor of photography and union member who Schonberger described as his “partner in crime” explained why, from her perspective, job security is an important part of both the contract and the university as a whole.

“Students were in turmoil. They’re in a whole semester with him thinking that he’s not coming back, he thinks he’s not coming back and he has to go to work every day,” Friges said. “We can’t plan if we don’t know that we’re gonna have the support of our management.”

Schonberger voiced appreciation for the students who supported him and the other faculty members who received the non-renewal letters, as well as those who supported the union efforts as a whole.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I mean, I knew that the students were unhappy, but I didn’t know how deeply and personally they were affected by this. To see them willingly stand behind not just me, but all of us, was amazing. It really justified and validated my work here, and that it’s good work and that it’s a betterment to the culture and our students here. I think they saw [the letters of non-renewal] not only as an attack against their teachers, but an attack against their education. That was amazing to see, too, because it was like a dual rally at that point. But, It was humbling. It was crazy.”