The Value of Grievance Procedures

BY MIKE MAUER

Our colleagues at Montgomery College are in the process of learning, first hand, the value of a modification to their collective bargaining agreement that they won in the last round of negotiations.

For decades, the chapter kept winning stronger and stronger protections for faculty at the only unionized college in the two-year sector in Maryland. In strategizing about what to tackle in bargaining for the 2015 contract, the decision was made that one change in the grievance / arbitration process was key. Over the years, a well-functioning grievance procedure culminated only in advisory arbitration. If the steps of the grievance procedure didn’t enable the parties to find common ground, the college’s Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Services retained the final decisionmaking authority. The chapter reasoned that leaving the ultimate resolution of disputes to the administration in effect weakened every provision the chapter had won in the rest of the collective bargaining agreement. So winning a binding arbitration procedure became a top priority, and the chapter was successful at the bargaining table.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when the administration announced that it would not honor the contractually agreed-upon salary increases for faculty. They insisted that they were facing financial hard times, and therefore couldn’t implement the raises. The truth later came out that although the County had approved a budget allocation that fell short of what the College had requested, the amount given still represented a substantial increase over the prior year’s funding from the county. And it was sufficient to fund the negotiated salary increase, had the administration lived up to the terms of the negotiated agreement. So the chapter grieved.

As the grievance winds its way through the steps of the procedure, so far the administration has remained locked into its position that it did nothing improper. Had this matter been dealt with under previous collective bargaining agreements, the chapter would be looking at the likely end of the line being a decision by the College VP that merely affirmed that position. But with “final and binding arbitration” now in place, the chapter will have its day in court before a neutral third party adjudicator. So the faculty at Montgomery College remain hopeful that they will, in fact, see their pay levels raised, in keeping with what the union achieved in 2015 at the bargaining table.

Mike Mauer is the AAUP’s senior labor advisor.


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