Q: I recently went to my chapter leader about a problem and wound up filing my first grievance. My chapter leader assisted me and represented me at Step 1. When my grievance was denied, she helped me move it to Step 2. After my appeal was turned down, I wanted to proceed but she said that the borough office would first have to review my case. What are my rights now?
A: The grievance machinery is one of the best weapons the union has to resolve violations of the contract. By using the grievance machinery, individual members can assert their rights and seek just remedies. So you did the right thing by going to your chapter leader when you thought you had a grievance.
Chapter leaders are able to determine whether a particular problem constitutes a grievance. Article 22A of the Teacher's Agreement states that a grievance is "a violation, misinterpretation or inequitable application of any of the provisions" of this contract or treatment that is unfair, inequitable by virtue of being "contrary to established policy or practice governing or affecting employees."
But not every problem is a grievance. Article 22A details some of the kinds of violations - for example, law, state education department policy - for which a member may have recourse to non-grievance remedies. And, of course, there are conflicts that can only be resolved by informal means.
When you meet with your chapter leader, he or she will help you initiate the grievance and assist you in citing the proper articles and other technical matters. In addition, your chapter leader can represent you at Step 1 - a hearing with the principal - and, if your grievance is denied, work with your district representative (DR) about filing at Step 2 - a hearing at the superintendent's level. Throughout this process, be sure to keep all documents pertaining to your case and add any new materials as you receive them.
If your grievance is denied at Step 2, your chapter leader will consult with your DR if you wish to proceed to Step 3 - a hearing at the chancellor's level. However, the union reserves the right to move the case forward from Step 3 on, in accordance with Articles 22B and 22C of the contract.
What this means is that the union, not the grievant, decides whether or not to pursue a case to Step 3 and/or arbitration. For the most part, the union pursues every case where there is a persuasive argument to right a contractual violation. However, there are situations that may cause the union not to proceed. That is because Step 3 decisions and arbitration awards set precedents for the rest of our members. By taking a case to Step 3 or arbitration, the union must weigh the consequences of both a positive and negative decision. In certain cases, the union might refuse to proceed with the grievance in order to protect the interests of other members.
A grievance committee in each UFT borough office reviews cases and determines whether or not to take a case to Step 3. If your borough office agrees that a contractual violation took place, you will be notified and a Step 3 hearing will be scheduled. If the borough committee does not believe your case should proceed, you will receive a letter explaining your right to appeal that decision.
The internal appeal procedure gives you every opportunity to make the case for having your grievance heard. The letter explains the appeal process to you in detail, including the time limits involved. If you wish to appeal, you will be informed about how to arrange for an individual case review conference at UFT headquarters. This conference gives you a chance to personally explain why you believe your case should go forward.
The Grievance Department will notify you in writing of its decision, usually within three to four weeks. Either your Step 3 hearing will be scheduled or you will receive instructions on how to file the next and last appeal to the union's Administrative Committee. The decision of the AdCom is final.
If your Step 3 is heard and denied, the UFT Grievance Department determines whether or not to proceed to arbitration. If the decision is not to proceed, the same appeal process outlined above is available to you.