After schools finally closed in mid-March, United Federation of Teachers members trying to file grievances about the DOEs mishandling of COVID-19 were shocked to find the union telling them their right to grieve was halted indefinitely.
As a result, more than 200 members who grieved on the grounds that the Department of Education was in violation of UFT contractual provisions on health and safety during the weeks of March 9 and March 16 were prevented by the UFT from pursuing these grievances.
Now, some of these members, including Chapter Leaders at three schools, are filing an improper practice charge against the UFT with the New York State Public Employees Relations Board for violating its duty of fair representation. The full text of the charge is available here.
By keeping schools open and requiring staff in the buildings until March 19, the DOE endangered the lives of thousands of employees. Over 70 DOE staff have died due to COVID. By preventing members from filing grievances in response to the DOE’s culpability in endangering school based staff, the UFT is failing to do it’s most basic job—represent its members.
Since the grievances were filed in April, low-level union staff have been telling grievants the grievance process was “paused,” “frozen,” or “in abeyance” until further notice. This leaves UFT members without any recourse if their rights are violated. The lowest-level union staffers, the District Representatives, have been telling grievants that when the process “reopens,” they may submit their grievances. This has not been acceptable to grievants, because any delay in handling grievances allows a continuance of abusive treatment.
Equally seriously, grievants are concerned with contractual time limits on how long they have to file grievances. Absent agreement from the Department of Education waiving timeliness restrictions, when the UFT finally resumes handling members’ grievances, the Department of Education can simply deny them as “untimely.” This is unacceptable.
The charge at PERB is that the UFT has taken away members’ right to grieve, and so at best delaying their chance to correct unfair treatment. Additionally, the claim that grievances will be eventually accepted as timely, without any proof of an agreement on the part of the employer agency, constitutes a lack of good faith and honesty on the UFT’s part.
As we consider reopening plans without a clear Memorandum of Agreement on either remote or blended learning, it is imperative that the UFT restore the grievance process and the DOE waive the timeliness requirement for grievances.