Abagael West of Local 1088 Celebrates New Life as Union-Represented Professor


The following article is part of the Stories of Pride profile series by the USW LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee.

As Abagael West (they/them) wrapped up the academic year at the University of Pittsburgh this past May, the Teaching Assistant Professor began a new chapter that was a long-time coming: one as a USW member protected by a collective bargaining agreement.

At midnight on May 11, nearly 3,000 faculty members at Pitt, including West, ratified their first-ever union contract, nearly three years after voting to join the United Steelworkers.

When West first learned about the union campaign six years ago, they didn’t know much about labor, yet as they grew to know the organizers, the biology professor quickly found a like-minded community. 

“I knew they were doing something good and right,” said West, who is now a proud member of Local 1088.

They acknowledge that there are those who don’t understand why workers at a university need the protections of a union. West, who believes “the more unions, the better,” expects this is because many people still hold a view of academia that doesn’t exist anymore.

“Most higher education jobs nowadays are very contingent and fairly low-paid,” said West. “I went through more than a decade of schooling to be qualified to do my job, and when I tell people my salary, they’re surprised.”

Although the money is important – and West is getting a significant wage hike thanks to this agreement – they believe other wins in the contract are just as vital, including an academic freedom article.

“As an educator and a queer person who brings personal life experience to the classroom, being protected in this case is really important.”

West also said this issue is becoming more relevant by the day, as right-wing legislative attacks on education and the LGBTQ+ community increase. They view unions capable of, and responsible for, combating both.

“We’re seeing queer people and educators under attack in every state, and these laws they’re passing and proposing are absolutely outrageous,” said West. “The political influence that unions can have in this sense is going to be really important.”

West said part of this work includes unions investing in these issues and ensuring LGBTQ+ workers are protected like everyone else.

“Queer people are everywhere,” said West. “They might not be as loud in every sector, but they might be louder knowing they’re protected by a contract that’s enforced and their union has their backs.”

Click here to listen to a USW podcast episode featuring Pitt faculty activists.

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