Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Grievance Monster

Today I'm going to a grievance hearing in Manhattan. It's not my favorite thing to do, but I love taking the train in. It's a great luxury for me to sit and read for a while. I rarely get to do that these days. The substance of the grievance hearing, though, is not something I particularly look forward to.

This is because the people who decide, at Step Two at least, may as well be the principal. Honestly, step one is the principal, and the principal is the person with whom you have a disagreement. Hence, the grievance. Now principals, like a whole lot of people, tend to think what they did was right. Otherwise, I figure, why would they have done that thing? Even if you or I thought the principal did the worst thing in the world, it's entirely possible the principal thinks you or I did the worst thing in the world. That's likely why we're sitting with letters in our files saying we did the worst things in the world.

Now here's the thing--the principal doesn't make these decisions alone. He gets help in the form of DOE legal. These are a bunch of Bloomberg remnants who sit around Tweed all day and tell principals whatever they've done is fine. You want to write a letter in file for something that happened over three months ago? Go ahead. The Contract is just a series of suggestions. You're the principal, and therefore entitled to do Any Damn Thing You Please.

Therefore, there are a whole lot of hearings that ought not to be even happening. I've been to maybe ten over the past year. At Step Two, you meet with higher-ups. The hearing is run by a representative of the chancellor, who decides. You're represented by someone from UFT, and the Superintendent has a rep who argues against you. Do you see any possibility of bias here?

If you don't, you should. It appears to me that the chancellor's reps are entirely prejudiced against UFT members. If the Contract says the principal has three months to write something up, and he writes it up six months later, you get a letter saying "the event was not an occurrence" and the grievance is therefore rejected. In other words, the thing that happened did not, in fact, happen, so the time line doesn't apply. And you get that back with the signature of the current chancellor.

In fairness, I'm told it's a rubber stamp and the chancellor does not actually read this stuff. In a way, I don't blame him. In a more substantial way, though, I do. I would not want my name affixed to an assertion that preposterous, ever. That's just one ridiculous decision I got last year, but there have been others.

In fact, I've been at hearings where the officer asks us to leave the room. We stand outside the room and hear everything inside. The officer basically tells the principal he has no case. We get called back in, but three or four months later that very same officer rules for the principal. Thus far, I've seen nothing remotely approaching reason out of Gold Street.

Terrible as that is, it's not the end of the line. You have a chance with an arbitrator. An arbitrator, supposedly, is beholden neither to admin nor the union. Here's the problem, though---because the DOE is full of lying, morally bankrupt scoundrels, a whole lot of black and white cases get sent to arbitration. This means, if the arbitrators want to please UFT sometimes, and DOE
 sometimes, the gray issues may be decided in favor of DOE.

One year, I grieved because our principal, rather than give us programs for the next year, simply cut up current programs and gave them to everyone. This was ridiculous, but the arbitrator was fine with it. The Contract does not say we will get new programs with rooms the penultimate day of the year so the principal can redistribute old programs. Were that true, the language would not be in the contract at all.

So here's the problem--even if your arbitrator collects the $1400 per-diem, even if your arbitrator graduated law school, even if your arbitrator appears to be fluent in English, there's every possibility the arbitrator can be, you know, stupid. Now I've got a pretty low tolerance for stupid myself. It's particularly disturbing when it comes from adults whose jobs, on the surface at least, entail being not stupid.

But what can you do? I'm hopeful that some facets of the new contract can replace the grievance process, which takes forever. I'm still waiting on six or seven from last year to go to arbitration. The grievance process grinds slowly indeed. We need to find a better way to resolve differences than putting them before rigged hearings at Gold Street and arbitrators who may or may not understand English better than the newcomers I teach.

At least my students have an excuse.
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