Workers at Chatham University say they want more transparency from the school’s administration.

So, trying to lead by example, they took the unusual step of holding an open-to-the-public union card-signing event Thursday evening at East End Brewing Co. in Larimer. 

“We’re really committed to an open and transparent process,” said Jessie Ramey, director of the women’s program and an associate professor at Chatham. “In fact, we’d like to be a part of a new wave in organizing, and I think that this could be part of a new paradigm where we work a little bit more openly.”

Of course, transparency is far from the only reason that faculty members at the 155-year-old university with three local campuses decided to get serious about organizing a union last year. After the university announced it would lay off 20 staff members over the summer amid major budgetary issues, staff members are demanding a “seat at the table” to ensure that they have a voice in the school’s future.

“You might find people who care as much about the future of Chatham as we do, but you won’t find anybody who cares more about the future of Chatham than we do because our future success and the success of our students are inseparable from the future of Chatham,” said Lou Martin, an associate professor of history at Chatham and a member of the union’s organizing committee. 

Chatham University did not respond Thursday to a request for comment on the union drive. 

Jean-Jacques Sene, left, an associate professor of history, and John Stakeley, an assistant professor of management, sign their union cards Thursday at East End Brewing Co. in Larimer. (Andrew Goldstein/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Organizers of Chatham Faculty United said there has been little pushback from the university thus far. They said they hope Chatham will voluntarily recognize the union, but they are willing to file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board if need be. 

Dozens of faculty members came to the brewery to sign their American Federation of Teachers union cards on the brewery’s rustic wooden tables while taking care not to knock over glasses of beer and pop that they had brought over from the bar counter. Organizers said that even more people would have attended if it wasn’t for scheduling conflicts.  

For Erin Marie Williams-Hatala, an associate professor of biology at Chatham and another member of the organizing committee, it was no surprise that a large portion of the university’s staff would be in favor of unionizing. There had been a failed attempt to organize a union at Chatham about a decade ago, she said, but the staff was emboldened to try again following the troubles that erupted last summer.

“We operate in this information vacuum,” Williams-Hatala said. “We have no sense of what the budget is, we had no sense of the problems that were facing Chatham until it just exploded in a very public way.” 

John Stakeley, an assistant professor of business management at Chatham, said a union seemed to be the “natural way” to address the imbalance of power that he blames for the university’s problems. 

“It seems to me that they’re rather sloppy with their finances and management in general, so it makes you wonder what’s really going on,” he said. “We have no transparency. There’s no information provided to us, nobody asks for our input, nobody asks for our advice, they just tell us this is what they’re going to do, including cutting benefits, cutting programs, cutting funding for everything we’re involved in, so we don’t have a voice in it.” 

Mayor Ed Gainey voices his support for Chatham staff members working to form a union Thursday at East End Brewing Co. in Larimer. (Andrew Goldstein/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Chatham staff members were joined at the brewery by Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, Mayor Ed Gainey and city Councilor Erika Strassburger, who all attended to show support for the unionization effort. 

In a brief address to the crowd, Gainey said that he planned to pen a letter to Chatham’s board of directors letting them know that his administration supports the staff’s efforts.

“We will put a letter together and send it to all the board of directors saying, ‘Give them the right to unionize so that they can improve the quality of life for every worker at Chatham,’” Gainey said. 

While the university faces many problems, staff members said they believe that forming a union would help strengthen the school and position it for a better future.

“My hope is Chatham Faculty United can present not just a vision for better working conditions for the faculty members but a vision for a better institution going forward,” Martin said. “I think we can be a constructive voice in the way we allocate resources for educational purposes creating a culture of shared governance — not just in name only but in reality — participating more fully in helping the institution meet its missions.” 

Andrew writes about education and more for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Andrew Goldstein

Andrew writes about education and more for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at