What does a Grievance Advisor do?

by Faculty Association | Filed under April 2015.

– By Mary-Ellen Tyler, Faculty Association Grievance Advisor –

From time to time, I have been asked “what do you actually do” as the Faculty Association Grievance Advisor?  This is more of a conundrum rather than a simple question!  Most of the work done by the Association under the rubric of ‘Grievance’ is completely invisible and has little to do with the formal Grievance process. The Association allocates considerable time and resources to the Grievance portfolio – so I think it is important that our membership understands why dedicated resources for grievance related work are needed.

Technically, this work is covered by Article 24 (“Grievance and Arbitration“) of the Collective Agreement.  There are two types of grievances: individual and policy.  Individual grievances involve a dispute between an Association member and the Governors. In such situations, the Association has carriage of the grievance and brings it forward on the individual member’s behalf.  This is part of the Association’s duty of fair representation under the provincial Post-Secondary Learning Act, and is not an area the Association can ignore.

The reason for an individual grievance may be brought forward to the Association’s attention by an academic staff member, or it could be initiated in response to disciplinary action by the Governors under the Collective Agreement, Article 20 (“Discipline“) defined as “… a counselling letter, a written warning or reprimand, a suspension without pay, or a recommendation for dismissal”.  Further, “Reasons for all discipline must be given in writing to the academic staff member with a copy provided to the Association“.  This language could lead you to believe that Grievance work starts only when disciplinary letters are received or when a Grievance is filed.  However, the Association puts a lot of time and effort into trying to prevent situations from getting to this formal Grievance stage.  It is this pre-disciplinary action stage that is actually the biggest share of the Association’s Grievance work.  As there is usually ‘history’ behind formal Grievance, the Association does everything possible from the first time we are aware of a problem, complaint, or inquiry from one of our members to prevent the issue from proceeding to the formal disciplinary action and Grievance stage.  This ‘invisible’ work is done by the Association’s Executive Director and other professional Association staff.

The Association’s ‘duty to represent’ its members certainly has natural justice and legal dimensions; but it is more often the more informal human relations dimensions that are equally (if not more) important at the ‘invisible’ stage of Grievance work.  It is in this pre-formal Grievance phase that the need for the Association’s resources is greatest.  This is where we focus our efforts on trying to find fair resolution using various combinations and forms of communication, interpersonal relations, conflict mediation, negotiation and peer advising.  One thing I think the Faculty Association can be proud of is the success we have had, under often trying circumstances, in finding resolutions that reduce, if not prevent, formal Grievance and Arbitration.

The second type of Grievance, or Policy Grievance, arises when there is a dispute between the Governors and the Association.  This type of Grievance is not about an individual, but a general dispute about actions or policies that allegedly contravene the Collective Agreement or other overarching legislation.  There are many hours of ‘invisible’ work put in by the Association to have these types of disputes resolved before they get to the level of a formal Grievance.  Again, ‘history’ behind these issues and again, the pre-Grievance phase often represents the largest part of Grievance work. Ultimately, it is the Association’s intention to do what it can to fairly resolve disputes informally.

For obvious reasons of confidentiality I cannot provide any details of specific cases, but I can tell you there are always a number of cases in various stages of completion including awaiting responses from central administration and human resources. While there are a handful of formal Grievances, we have over 100 active files where we are seeking information, providing advice etc.

I want you to know that when you contact the Faculty Association office you will reach a professional staff member who will treat your call or e-mail with the utmost confidentiality.  Faculty Association employees work for the Association and are not employees of the University of Calgary.  The Association has strict protocols in place to ensure that elected Faculty Association officers such as myself as Grievance Advisor are not informed of and do not have access to any confidential personal information without your consent. Similarly, Grievance Advisors such as myself, are not informed of and have no information about issues in their home departments and faculties and are not involved in either pre-Grievance or formal Grievance work related to their home departments and faculties.

Also, please don’t forget that while Grievance work goes on at both the invisible and formal stages other work does not stop. The Association continues to be involved with, among other things, supporting members going through tenure and promotion processes, bargaining terms of the Collective Agreement, Association governance, sending out general member communications, conducting internal research and financial reporting. Elected officers and Grievance Advisors such as myself still continue with academic duties related to teaching, scholarship and research, and graduate supervision.

Although it has become a tired cliché – it really does take a ‘team effort’ to manage the workload involved in Grievance. The experience of the Association’s professional staff and the other elected officers with Grievance experience is an invaluable resource to our members.  I know I could not do the job of Grievance Advisor without their involvement and advice.

Finally, to summarize, the nature and timing of the invisible or pre-grievance work we deal with is unpredictable in so far as we never know when it is going to appear on any given day in any given week. The number of telephone, e-mail, drop-in inquiries or complaints that we can receive on any given day is hugely variable.  There is no way of knowing at first contact just how much time may be involved and required to deal with each individual case.  Therefore, I hope this article has convinced you, as Association members of five things:

1.  Grievance work is an iceberg – very little of it is actually visible;
2.  This invisible work at the pre-formal Grievance stage reduces, if not prevents, unwanted discipline,Grievance and Arbitration cases;
3.  The workload involved is unpredictable both in its nature and timing – and confidential;
4.  This work requires dedicated resources on an ongoing basis if we are to maintain our successful record of finding fair and timely resolutions; and finally …

5.  You will probably regret ever asking a Faculty Association Grievance Advisor what they actually do!

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