A faculty union does many things, from providing a place for academics to meet to educating politicians. But it's primary legal mission is to bargain and enforce a contract. In this issue we focus on the grievance process.
And the USF Chapter will hold four successive workshops on various aspects of the grievance process on four successive Thursdays, March 24, March 31, April 7, and April 14, each one from 1:45 pm to 3 pm on USF Tampa in CPR 355. Alternatively, there will be an all-day workshop on May 6 from from 10 am to 3 pm on USF St. Petersburg in USC 258 (the Palm Room). All USF faculty and professionals are invited, and UFF members are especially asked to bring a colleague.
A contract is just a PDF file, and doesn't enforce itself. Human nature being what it is, a contract will erode away if it isn't enforced, and that's a union's job. Our contract, the 2014 - 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, provides an enforcement mechanism, the grievance process described in Article 20 (pages 56 - 62). The basic idea is that if an employee's contractual rights or privileges are violated, that employee may file a grievance, i.e. a formal complaint that the contract has been violated. The Administration must then address that grievance, and there is a process for doing that.
In addition, the UFF USF Chapter may itself file a grievance and pursue it through the same process.
The most important point is this: a grievance is a complaint that the contract has been violated. An injustice or a stupidity is not in itself a grievance; only a violation of the contract can make a grievance, and that grievance must identify what in the contract was violated. For example, Paragraph 14.2A requires that if material is added to a promotion packet during the promotion procedure, the employee must be informed within five days. So if an employee went up for promotion, and during one of the periodic reviews of the packet the employee discovered something was added, and the employee had not been informed, that employee may file a grievance - but the grievance must specify that Paragraph 14.2A has been violated.
And the clock is ticking. An employee has thirty days from the time she knew or should have known of the contract violation to file a grievance. Grievances have been turned down because they were late.
The grievance process starts with submitting the form on pages 89, 90 of the contract. An employee may represent herself, or she may hire a lawyer - and legal fees may run into the thousands of dollars. UFF members may be represented by UFF for free - and UFF has experience with labor law that many lawyers do not. However, since UFF representation is backed by UFF's lawyers - who cost a lot, and who are paid for by union dues from UFF members - UFF does not represent non-members in grievances. Specifically, UFF will not represent an employee who was not a member at the time of the contract violation.
Returning to the grievance process, the complaint launches Step 1, which is an informal attempt to resolve the grievance. Because a grievance must be filed within thirty days, employees are strongly advised to file the grievance and then seek informal resolution of a problem. Often this does the trick, but if not...
If Step 1 does not resolve the problem, the grievant may move to Step 2, which is more formal. There is a hearing where the grievant (or the grievant's representative) presents the grievant's case. The hearing is before a university representative, usually someone from the central administration, who issues a decision.
Incidentally, a hearing before someone from the central administration is not as odd as it might sound. A surprising number of grievances result from middle management (chairs, deans, etc.) who are ignorant of or indifferent to the contract. A stream of grievances from a particular academic unit tells the central administration something about that unit's leadership.
Returning to Step 2, hopefully Step 2 resolves the issue. If not, and if both the grievant and UFF want to pursue the matter, they can request arbitration. UFF and the USF Administration select a neutral arbitrator, who hears the case and makes a binding decision, within limits (an arbitrator may not, for example, decide that the USF Board of Trustees must grant tenure to someone).
This system is not ideal, but it is the system that has evolved from decades of both sides agreeing to this compromise.
An employee who would like assistance can always contact the United Faculty of Florida. In particular, if an employee faces a meeting, or is in a meeting, that looks like it is leading towards disciplinary action, that employee may ask for a UFF representative to be present (if this means that the issue must be postponed to a subsequent meeting, so be it). To contact the UFF USF Grievance Committee, one may contact the Grievance Committee or the Grievance Committee chair or send an email to UFF USF - which can be done by pressing "reply" to a Biweekly.
Impasse is a tricky process, and we wish the staff well. After all, they are the ones who keep the lights on, and the laborer is worthy of his reward.