Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Letter-in-File Grievances, R.I.P.
One of the worst givebacks in our current contract was the right, under Article 21A, to grieve letters in the file. We have addressed this loss in the past but today, I had the rare opportunity to participate in one of the last letter-in-the-file arbitrations we shall ever see unless we win this valuable right back.
Under Article 21A supervisors can include in your personnel file letters of a disciplinary or negative nature limited only by whether they were "unfair" or "inaccurate." In past contracts any unfairness or inaccuracy would invalidate the whole letter. Under more recent contracts this was watered down to allow the arbitrator to change the improper parts.
With our new contract, of course, there is no right to grieve these letters. The principal can write anything he/she wishes without fear that a grievance procedure will change or delete the letter. When the U-rating is given the letter can theoretically be challenged but U-rating appeals are run by DOE supervisors. They will clearly not provide the forum to remove the letters that our Union has been so successful in doing at arbitrations. (According to Gary Rabinowitz, Special Rep in charge of LIF Arbitrations, the Union had a 50% success rate at arbitration).
At the time of the present contract's implementation there were a number of letter-in-file grievances at Step III. The Union and DOE agreed that these grievances would all be heard at "expedited" arbitrations. Today, I participated in two of these.
While there are some very fundamental problems in which LIF grievances are (should I say were) handled there is no doubt how empowering the procedure is to the member and the Chapter. The principal and assistant principal, who were after one member of my chapter, had to explain and testify to support what they had written. The grievant and I then explained and testified what really happened.
The grievant received a U-rating based on these letters so if the arbitrator removes or changes the letters in a favorable way she will be able to keep her job. It is difficult to predict what the arbitrator will do but at least she had a fair opportunity to confront her supervisors and demonstrate that these unfair and inaccurate letters should be removed.
I explained to my member that this arbitration existed in the "twilight zone" and that if the letters were written today she would only have the U-rating appeal to deal with the letters.
She gazed at me quizzically and said, "Why, in the hell, would anyone have voted for this contract?"