Ruling should halt DOE violation of grievance timeline

by Deidre McFadyen

Feb 13, 2007 12:08 PM

The UFT won an arbitration decision on Feb. 7 that union officials believe will eliminate a huge backlog of grievances in the chancellor’s office while stopping the Department of Education from dragging its feet in the future.

“For years, the Department of Education has tried to stifle the grievance process,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. “This decision should restore confidence in the process. It doesn’t mean we’ll win everything but from now on, when a member in a school files a grievance that goes to the chancellor’s level, if that grievance is delayed, it will go to an expedited arbitration.”

According to the two-part remedy fashioned by arbitrator Ralph S. Berger, half of the current backlog at Step 2 (formerly Step 3) will be sent to an impartial mediator for prompt resolution. In addition, the arbitrator laid out an expedited arbitration procedure for handling future Step 2 grievances that the Department of Education sits on.

The union has about 400 grievances which, after being denied at the school level, have been stuck at Step 2 as the chancellor delayed ruling on the appeals. Most date from 2006 and late 2005, but a few go back to 2003 and 2004.

“The ultimate need here is to make sure that we can get to arbitration,” said Weingarten. “That’s the only independent entity that will give us a fair shake with this Department of Education.”

After a complaint filed with the state Public Employment Relations Board did not bring relief, Weingarten and UFT Grievance Director Howard Solomon devised a new strategy to tackle the delays and force the DOE to comply with the contract.

“We took a risk and we decided to arbitrate the failure to have a viable grievance procedure,” said Weingarten. “In essence, we arbitrated the arbitration procedure.”

According to the award, which takes effect on Feb. 26, a mediator agreeable to both sides will promptly handle 200 backlogged grievances of the union’s choosing.

For all future grievances, following the Step 2 grievance hearing, the DOE has 28 school days to issue a response. If it fails to do so, the UFT will now have the right to submit that grievance to expedited arbitration. As crafted by Berger, that expedited procedure will result in a written decision by an impartial arbitrator within 10 school days of the hearing.

The UFT will now be allowed to present up to five grievances on each of the 140 arbitration dates per year that the union is entitled to under the contract.

“This decision will increase by up to five times the number of grievances heard at arbitration if the DOE continues to stall,” said Weingarten.

Union-initiated grievances and termination grievances will not be subject to mediation or the expedited arbitration procedure.

The terms of the award will expire on Feb. 26, 2009, unless both the union and the DOE agree in writing to extend them. 1