Know Your Contract

Sep 16, 2014 by

Know Your Contract

griev·ance (grēvəns/)

noun: 1. a real or imagined wrong or other cause for complaint or protest, especially unfair treatment; 2. a feeling of resentment over something believed to be wrong or unfair; 3. an official statement of a complaint over something believed to be wrong or unfair.

synonyms: injustice, wrong, injury, complaint, grumble, grouse, resentment, bitterness, pique, beef, bone to pick

I like the first and second definitions because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of injustice in the workplace. And forget the “imagined” or “believed to be;” reality is frequently quite bad enough.

But it’s really the last definition—an official statement of a complaint—that applies to the work of the LIUFF.   It’s through the grievance process that we protect the rights our contract guarantees, and it’s also through this process that we interpret the contract and expand those rights.

Sometimes, a grievance is the only way to get the Administration’s attention. Every couple of years, someone doesn’t get paid for an independent study or winter term course, and once the finger pointing and yelling back and forth between offices gets going, a grievance is like a loud whistle, it gets their attention—and gets the faculty paid pretty quickly.   And sometimes there are cases where it’s worth risking a loss at arbitration to settle the point.  These are the cases about ARPT procedures or faculty primacy in scheduling and hiring or where there is real malfeasance (rather than just plain incompetence) and members have lost their jobs.

But most cases aren’t like that.   We do a lot of work to solve grievances quietly and quickly for members who might not want to call attention to themselves in a public process but who need the support of the Union, who need someone to make phone calls on their behalf or who will be in their corner when they have difficult conversations with their Dean or the VPAA. To my thinking, respecting a grievant’s wishes and confidentiality are essential.  No one who comes to talk to us has to worry that we will file a grievance against their wishes or that we will use their case to score political points.

For those who haven’t had to go through it: pursuing a grievance through to arbitration can take the better part of a year, from the first filing to the arbitrator’s decision, which is final and binding.  And it’s a mistake to file a grievance that we don’t plan on pursuing through to arbitration, to file a case of questionable merit, or one that could be solved with a phone call or two, just to show our muscle—is strategically unwise. And it means that the next time, when an untentured faculty member, say, wants to try to settle a case because she or he doesn’t want to call widespread attention to themselves the year before going up for tenure, or an adjunct faculty member needs an advocate with their dean and wants to come to an agreement through an informal process, LIUFF has less chance of being effective.

A case in point. This summer an NTTA came to us about her promotion application; she had been told it was late and that she would have to wait another year to apply again.  We discovered that the VPAA’s calendar had NTTAs going up for promotion before reappointment and then worked with the administration to redo the ARPT calendar, settle another long-outstanding question, and get the member’s promotion application in process.  I got an email a few days ago that it had been approved.

I’m in Pratt 310 these days. Come see me or call me at ext. 1658.  And if you have suggestions for topics for this blog, I’d be happy to hear them.

Melissa Antinori is the Grievance Chair at Long Island University Faculty Federation (LIUFF). She can be reached by email at grievance AT liuff DOT net.

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