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Know Your Rights: Retaliation ✊. The Role of Grievances

For part time, contingent faculty, advocating for their rights can be particularly challenging. Most have learned, over the years, that job security and advancement comes with keeping one’s head down, not causing problems, and being flexible. By keeping our supervisors happy we hope they will continue to reappoint us, promote us, and support our advancement. 


Many faculty prefer not to involve the union or file a grievance because they fear stirring up trouble in this way will eventually lead to negative consequences for them. If job security depends on the goodwill of our supervisors, then the last thing we want to do is make things more difficult for them. We fear that such actions, despite their legality, will yield retribution at some point and our employment feels too contingent to take such risks. Yet, this is a recipe for potential abuse and exploitation.



However reasonable the source of this attitude is, it is profoundly self defeating. The fact is, it is only through fighting to uphold the contract that we can truly remain protected. The abuse and exploitation of contingent faculty thrives the more it remains hidden.



Contractual violations become regularized the longer they go unaddressed. If there is one thing every long term contingent faculty member needs to learn it is this: the more visibility a difficult situation has, typically, the better protected you are. Retaliating against faculty who exercise their right to union representation or the grievance process is against the law. But most of us don’t understand exactly what that law says or how it protects us. In this guide, we will attempt to understand those protections. 


One more point--institutions of education like Pratt survive on their reputation--Their growth depends on their ability to attract excellent faculty and talented students. Simply put, the reputation of union-busting is terrible for this. The fact is, retribution in places like Pratt for exercising contractual rights is not only considered illegal but rare. It can happen, especially in the cases of low level administrators, but it is not common. That being said…



What protections do union members have?



The relationship between employees and management is governed by the National Labor Relations Board. Sections 8(a)(1) and (3) of the National Labor Relations Act makes it an unfair labor practice for management to take any adverse actions against unionized employees if they engage in any union activities, including filing a grievance. These adverse actions include being fired, disciplined, demoted, or penalized in any way. It is true that the penalties for unfair labor practices are not financially severe, usually undoing the adverse action and repaying any lost wages, but the negative publicity around such judgments is usually something administrators seek to avoid. In some particularly egregious cases the NLRB has issued fines for engaging in unfair labor practices. Most importantly, the NLRB has investigatory power in which all sorts of managerial actions can be subjected to scrutiny. 


In practice, retaliation is rare. Union members exercise their contractual rights all the time without retaliation. Here at Pratt grievances have been filed regularly over the five decades since the founding of UFCT Local 1460. Given the chance of an unfair labor practice charge, the administration tends to be extra careful in cases where a grievance is filed.


Retaliation against contract-protected activity is grievable and the union commits to using the grievance process to protect faculty in such cases.



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One of the strengths of our contract at Pratt, is that it protects us against arbitrary and capricious judgments by the administration.


Such judgments are often made in cases of reappointment, course assignment, promotion and status change. At Pratt, these decisions are often free of oversight or accountability, particularly at the department level.



The Grievance process is the only real means of oversight and it is important that, in cases where the CBA is violated, the process is engaged. Not every potential grievance leads to a formal grievance. Not every decision by management is necessarily arbitrary or capricious. The Grievance Committee of the union can help faculty make those judgments as well as engage in other means to make aggrieved faculty whole. 


In the end, union strength is proportionately related to the lengths members are willing to do to protect their hard earned rights.


If you feel you have been subject to actions that are, in your view, arbitrary and capricious, reach out to the Grievance Committee immediately. Grievances must be filed within 20 days of the violation. It is important to act quickly.


You do not have to be a member to participate in a grievance, but the larger our membership the stronger we are. To join email us at ufct1460@gmail.com.



In Solidarity,


The Grievance Committee of UFCT Local 1460

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