On Grievances – CUPE 3903

CUPE 3903 has existed for over 30 years. In those 30 years of struggle with our Employer we have gained many rights and privileges, many of which are protected by our Collective Agreements – legal documents that state the common ground between 3903 and York’s administration.

Looking back at some of our first agreements it’s interesting to note that they included little more than a statement of ‘management rights’ and our wage levels. Some thirty-odd years later we have an amazing benefits package, many funds to help support our Member’s work, and many other protections. They’re the result of many rounds of collective bargaining, work-to-rules, and work stoppages.

When these hard-fought agreements are violated a member has the right to file a grievance, which means making an official complaint, one that our Employer has to resolve in one way or another.

One of the most important things about being in a union is that it’s never just you filing a complaint. This is never a ‘one on one’ process. Every step of the way you have the right to union representation, and 3903 considers every complaint that is made one of its own.

Working with the Chief Stewards, members of the Grievance Committee and our Staff, the Grievance Officer follows through on grievances which have been filed by Members. If you think you have a grievance you should talk to your steward, the Grievance Officer and/or staff and they can help answer your questions.

Below is an attempt to help demystify the grievance process.

What is a grievance?
A grievance is an official complaint about the way the Employer interprets, applies, or administers the Collective Agreement. This ranges from the Employer claiming a particular understanding of a certain procedure all the way up to simply ignoring what has been agreed to. A grievance can also be a complaint about harassment or discrimination that you face at the University.

Any member of CUPE 3903 can file a grievance, and the Employer is bound by the agreement to act reasonably and non-discriminatorily in response to a grievance.

Often it’s not just one Union member that is affected by what our Employer does – sometimes a number of members are affected by the actions of a particular supervisor or chair, and often the Employer will violate agreed-to procedures across many departments and faculties. In these instances the Union can file what are called group and policy grievances and seek redress for many people at once. These sorts of grievances are often filed because Members let stewards and staff know what is happening, so it’s important to bring all problems you see to Union activists and 3903’s Staff.

This process is explained in more detail below, under the heading “the grievance process.”


What types of things do 3903ers grieve?
Across all bargaining units, an important type of grievance that 3903 files has to do with harassment, discrimination, and accommodation issues. While the Employer might send you to the Centre for Human Rights, or suggest heading to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR), these are workplace issues that should be, and can be, resolved with the help of the Union. One advantage of taking this route is that Union reps can go to meetings on your behalf, which is important for certain kinds of harassment and discrimination. In addition, the Union can often get stronger resolutions to problems because of its legal status.

Common grievances in Units 1 and 3 are related to workload – being asked to work more hours than are agree to in the CA. For example, if you have what is called a ‘full’ graduate assistantship, research assistantship, or teaching assistantship you are expected to work no more than 270 hours at an average of 10 hours a week.

In order to agree on how these hours will be used, every TA, GA, and RA should have a meeting with their supervisor before they start working. If after a few weeks of working you find that there’s just too much to be done in the time allotted, you should alert your super so they can find an accommodation. This can include a reduction in work or extra monetary compensation. The Overwork Rate is almost $40/hr.

Overwork can include things like ‘marking crunches’ at the end of each semester, or supers trying to get RAs and GAs to max-out their hours just before a contract is up.

Other common grievances in Units 1 and 3 are related to funding and right of first refusal. Some departments don’t tell their students that if they’re part of the union, they’re guaranteed 6 years of funding. Tied to this is the fact that once you’ve TA’d a course, your entitled to continue doing that same job until your funding runs out.

Common grievances in Unit 2 are related to hirings. For example if you have filled out a blanket application form in a particular department and see someone with less seniority being listed on the Notice of Recommended Appointment for a course you are qualified to teach then you could contact the Union to start a grievance.

Other grievances in Unit 2 include evaluations, not being given an interview for a YUFA position, and around conversions.


What is the grievance process?

The grievance process begins when a 3903er realizes that one or more of our CA rights has been violated, and therefore seeks a remedy for the violation. The grievance process essentially involves four successive steps, outlined in section six of each of our three CAs.

Many are resolved at Step One, which is where the griever makes the case known to a 3903 representative and efforts are made to address the matter with a conversation with the Member’s supervisor. If there is no success at this stage, then the grievance advances through to the appropriate department heads and Deans, and then Faculty Relations and labour arbitrators.

A grievance case may be resolved with just a 10-15 minute phone call or it may last up to a year or more. The length of time depends on the nature of the grievance. The more serious or contentious, the chances are that it will take longer.

Because of their seriousness, grievances related to harassment, discrimination, or disability are often initiated at Step Four of the process, which means they are taken directly to Faculty Relations rather than an immediate supervisor or Dean.

A grievance can be withdrawn at any time, and doing so will not affect future grievances.

You have the right to attend all meetings related to the grievance and you have the right to not have to face your supervisor in such hearings.

The Grievance Procedure is outlined in Article 6 of each of our CAs, and looks like the following:


Step ONE: Most grievances should be started 28 calendar days after a 3903er or the Union as a whole becomes aware of the violation. If you think you have a grievance you can first submit it to, and discuss it with, your immediate supervisor or department director. This is considered the ‘informal stage’, but there are certain rules that have to be followed. For example, you have the right to be accompanied by a steward or staff at this meeting; and the supervisor or department director has to give a reply within 5 calendar days.


Step TWO: If the grievance is not resolved at Step One, then the grievance is put in writing and given to the Chair of the department in question within 14 calendar days. This written grievance will explain details of the grievance and will point to the article of the collective agreement which has been violated. The Chair will convene a meeting to discuss the grievance within 10 calendar days of receipt of the written grievance and will give her reply, in writing, within 10 calendar days of that meeting.


Step THREE: If the grievance is not resolved at Step Two it goes to the Dean of the faculty in question within 17 calendar days of the Step Two reply. The Dean then convenes a meeting to discuss the grievance within 14 calendar days of receipt of the grievance. A reply will be given, in writing, within 10 calendar days of that meeting.


Step FOUR: If the grievance is not resolved at Step Four the Grievance Committee submits the grievance to the Executive Director of Faculty Relations within 17 calendar days of the date of the Step Three reply. The Executive Director of Faculty Relations then has 14 calendar days to convene a meeting and will give her reply, in writing, within 21 calendar days of that meeting.


Arbitration: If the grievance is not settled at Step Four it may go to Arbitration. This means that a third party will hear the arguments of both 3903 and the Employer and make a binding decision on how the grievance will be resolved. As a preliminary step, 3903 and FR often try to mediate a settlement first. This also involves sitting down with a neutral third party chosen by 3903 and FR.

Not all grievances go to arbitration – this is because they’re very expensive and are not always in the best interest of the grievor or 3903 as a whole. Decisions to move forward with a grievance are usually made by the Grievance Committee, made up of the Chief Stewards, the Grievance Officer, the Postings Officers, and Staff.


What are the limits of the grievance process? Making it political
The grievance process can be effective when there is a clear violation of the CAs, but many of the things that our Employer does are clearly wrong in spirit but not always recognized as such in the eyes of the law.

Often the best way to solve problems at York is to demonstrate our collective anger and strength.

In bargaining years, that means being an active participant in the bargaining process. At all times – bargaining years included – direct action is our friend. In 2010 the Employer didn’t pay a third of Members in September, and sitting down VP finance Gary Brewer in front of angry 3903ers got the problem fixed. A similar scenario played out in 2013 when the Employer caused problems with the application of our Benefits Plan. Similarly, strikes and the threat of strikes have gotten us things like tuition protections for Units 1 and 3.

This in effect means making the grievance process more overtly political. Remember that the grievance process is already a collective one, with Union as a whole treating each grievance as its own. Adding direct action to this process means getting more and more 3903ers actively involved, thereby putting pressure on our Employer to do the right thing.

Creating new ways to pressure our Employer to treat us well is just as important as exercising the processes that we’ve invented in the past. Remember that our first agreements only included wages and an long outline of our Employer’s rights to treat us as they wish. One of the most effective ways of gaining more protections in our CAs is to continue our inventiveness in the future.


Prepared by Grievance Officer Greg Flemming and TFAC Co-chair Megan Hillman, with input from Staff – 10/29/2014