Contract Education: Article 14, Grievance Procedure

Union stewards, activists and staff strive to informally solve workplace problems, especially those which may violate our contractual rights. An essential article in our contract is Article 14, Grievance Procedure. This article ensures that when the university violates the contractual rights of our union members, we have recourse to a grievance process that checks the power of the university.

There are four main steps of a grievance procedure. At each point, the union and the grievant can resolve the issue with university representatives. While an individual bargaining unit member may be accused of violating the contract or some alleged misdeed, it is up to the union to make sure the contract is upheld and due process is followed. Pro Tip: We have a limited amount of time at each step of the grievance process so we have to communicate internally about addressing contractual violations or unfair discipline as soon as possible to retain our right to grieve.

First, the aggrieved party may attempt to resolve the matter informally with their supervisor. While this is an informal step, it is also the place where many issues can be addressed most effectively and efficiently if there is goodwill on both sides. Still, a campus steward may be able to help mediate the situation and let management know that if there is not an informal resolution, the union has an obligation to investigate fully, just as management has an obligation to conduct a full investigation before disciplining a member. Pro Tip: Talk to your local steward or the union office to offer experience and guidance in the process. There may be examples of creative problem-solving to follow.

Second, the grievance may be presented to the level of supervision above the one that took the action. The formal process has commenced in earnest at this point. It is never too late to identify an equitable solution, but we will request management provide all information to support their allegations and present as much of a case to refute them as possible. It is always helpful for members accused of wrongdoing or disciplined for performance to bring fellow union members or other witnesses who can speak to some aspect of the grievance and members’ performance. Often the presence of other union members in a grievance meeting will show management that they will not be able to uphold their discipline if testimony calls their narrative into question. Pro Tip: Bringing a witness or witnesses to help testify on a members’ behalf adds power and shows we will challenge unfairness collectively.

Third, the grievance may be elevated to a Step 3 meeting with the Office of University Labor Relations. The process becomes more formal at each step of the process, but there is always room for discussion and equitable resolutions of problems. Again, having written evidence, a paper trail, and witnesses willing to tell the truth is critical to help settle grievances favorably. The university relies on a decentralized system of UHR where important decisions are left up to their respective departments and UHR may offer guidance, but  looks to shield the university from liability. Pro Tip: The further along a grievance gets, the more important it is to have your co-workers’ support. The more unfairness the university imposes, violating our contract and victimizing members, the more important it is to take collective action.

Finally, Step Four of our grievance process, is for the Grievance Committee of the local to decide whether to send an unresolved grievance to binding arbitration. This can be a lengthy and expensive process so decisions must be made about whether the case will set precedent for the rest of the unit, how many members might it potentially impact, and whether there is a strong likelihood of success. While engaging in the arbitration process can take more time, URA has won reinstatements of unjustly terminated employees, unpaid wages for co-adjuncts, and much more through using this part of our contract. Pro Tip: It’s never too late for a settlement agreement and often an arbitrator will advise parties to try to work things out during the process. All the previously mentioned tools are still relevant: support from co-workers, written and in-person testimony, written evidence presented during the grievance process including applicable rules and regulations. 

If you have any questions about whether issues with your work environment rise to the level of a grievance, you can reach out to union@ura-aft.org. Building representatives and stewards offer support and guidance throughout the grievance procedure. If you are interested in becoming a building representative or a steward, we also encourage you to reach out to union@ura-aft.org to learn more and participate in training.

For more information, see the related article on Just Cause that we provided earlier in the semester. The Communications Committee will be rolling out a series of educational materials, social media updates, and other member-centered materials in the spring semester. If you are interested in helping out with this work, join the Communications Committee.