The Grievance Process

Updated: October 24, 2016
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The Primary Means of Enforcing the Contract: The Grievance Process

A contract is only a piece of paper until members in their workplaces enforce it; it means nothing if management is allowed to violate its provisions. Winning new or improved contract provisions at the bargaining table, in other words, only makes a difference if we hold management to them. The primary means by which we enforce the contract is through the grievance procedure. A grievance is a formal complaint that a member or the PSC files in response to a violation of the contract, and there is an established series of steps through which the grievance is addressed and resolved. There are other avenues for addressing workplace problems and contract violations, including informal complaints and labor management meetings. And the grievance process can be used to address issues beyond individual members’ problems, for instance, through class-action grievances. The contract is enforced through Article 20 of the contract, “Complaint, Grievance and Arbitration Procedure.” Should your rights be violated by CUNY management, it may be addressed formally or informally through the contract. The first thing you should do if you think your rights may have been violated is contact your grievance counselor. Everyone in the bargaining unit—the universe of employees covered by the contract—is entitled to the protections of the grievance procedure and is represented equally by the union. Members of the PSC are represented by chapter grievance counselors at steps one and two of the grievance process. If the grievance is still not resolved, the final step is a hearing with a professional arbitrator whose decision is final and binding, and the PSC provides legal counsel.

What do I do if I think my rights have been violated?

Contact the PSC chapter chair or grievance counselor on your campus. If you cannot reach a campus-based union representative, call the PSC office and ask for a grievance counselor. Article 20 of the contract provides for a 30 workdays within which to file a grievance therefore it is essential that you act quickly.

What is a grievance?

A grievance is a claim that there has been a breach or improper application of the contract or an arbitrary, discriminatory or improper application of the Bylaws. Many times, however, problems can be resolved through an informal procedure, with which the grievance counselor can help you. All conversations of this nature with the chapter chair and grievance counselor are strictly confidential.

Obey Now, Grieve Later

A general rule that arbitrators apply is that workers are expected to follow management’s instructions and directives. If the worker believes the instruction to be unfair or a violation of the contract, he/she can file a grievance at a later time. Arbitrators have customarily held that failure to obey management directions can lead to the employee being charged with—and disciplined for—insubordination, even if the employer's initial action did in fact violate the contract. There are two recognized exceptions to the “obey now, grieve later” principle. Employees may refuse a supervisor’s order when following the order would either 1) result in doing something illegal; or 2) put their health and safety in “imminent danger.” However, if management takes disciplinary action after such a refusal, the employee must prove that his/her belief about the unsafe condition or illegality was objectively justified.

Can I be retaliated against for filing a grievance?

Your right to participate in union activities is protected by law and by the contract itself, in Article 8.