Abuse and harassment of UFT members by administrators and supervisors is widespread. Individuals may be targeted, or departments; in some schools there is a general regime of harassment and abuse. And the contract offers virtually no protection.
The Right to Grieve Unfair, Inaccurate Disciplinary Letters
Until 2005, members had a contractual right to grieve a disciplinary letter in their file on grounds it was “unfair” and/or “inaccurate.” This restrained bosses’ use of disciplinary hearings and letters to harass members; they knew it could spark a grievance and union involvement. However, the UFT leadership gave back this right in the 2005 contract.
Article 23 - Special Complaints
This article looks like it should protect members from “persons or groups” that “are engaging in a course of harassment conduct, or in acts or intimidation . . . ” One giant hole in this protection is the final decision whether to uphold the complaint belongs to the DOE, not to a neutral arbitrator. Another is that it is almost impossible for members to use. A member or members cannot initiate the complaint: only the UFT officialdom can. Repeatedly, members are told to “document” harassment, “keep anecdotals,” etc. When they present the evidence to the District Rep or other UFT official, they are routinely told it isn’t enough grounds for a Special Complaint. In practice, this article only makes it look like we are protected from harassment and intimidation, and it strings the victim along, wastes their time, and ends in disappointment.
Anti-Retaliation (2019 Contract)
Although this new article promises “an environment . . . free of harassment, intimidation, retaliation and discrimination,” it is actually narrow and weak. First of all, it only even presumes to protect someone who “raises concerns about any situation that may violate the collective bargaining agreement, rule/law/regulation or Department policy, or that relates to their professional responsibilities or the best interests of their students.” We know that many members get harassed and abused for other equally bad reasons. The provision says such conduct is “prohibited,” which should mean it can be grieved. But even if the grievance were upheld, the article does not specify any repercussions for the perpetrator.
What We Need
We need a broad definition of harassment in the contract. The victim’s point of view should define harassment and abuse. That is how it is legally defined in many states: as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. That would include not only verbal abuse or disciplinary action, but also a pattern of denying a member their preferences in classes and other matters, visiting their classroom more often than those of their colleagues, etc.
The member, or any group of members, should be able to initiate a harassment complaint without any UFT official as a gatekeeper.
The final decision should be made by a neutral arbitrator. If the complaint is upheld, in addition to an order to cease and desist, there should be punitive action against the harasser, and a warning of further penalties if the harassment continues.