In Your Corner
How NEA protects members from false accusations and unfair treatment.
By Alain Jehlen
Sometimes, life’s not fair.
Ron Green, a beloved teacher, inspired generations of students. Denise Gough’s principal said she was the best school nurse he’d ever worked with. Jane Jackson simply told the truth.
Then suddenly, Green and Gough were out of a job, and Jackson was slapped with a harsh formal reprimand. But all three, and thousands more like them, were vindicated with the help of the Association, by using the grievance provision of their collective bargaining contract. It’s a provision that promises a fair process for those accused of wrongdoing.
Read how NEA Helped These Educators
Plus, learn the grievances lingo.
Most educators don’t think they’ll ever need to file a grievance, and most never do. But when it’s needed, the right to due process can be a career-saver.
Grievances are often handled by the Association’s UniServ staff like Virginia’s Anthony Jeffries and Kelly Paine. Most UniServ staff are often former members.
In some states, especially in the South, there’s no collective bargaining, but there usually is a grievance or due process system written into the state law. “When you can’t bargain with the school board, you wind up bargaining with the legislature,” says Carol Davis, former president of the Louisiana Association of Educators. It was a grievance process mandated by law that provided an opening for 70 Baton Rouge special education teachers plagued by computer software that wouldn’t work and ate up valuable teaching time. They filed a grievance and their school board responded. When there is no collectively bargained contract, school boards generally have the final say on grievances, with no effective right of appeal to a neutral arbitrator.
What non-bargaining associations lack in contract guarantees, they can sometimes make up for with grassroots pressure. “If you can stock the board meeting full of teachers and ESPs silently glaring at the board, sometimes you can turn them,” explains Colleen Borst, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE).
With or without a contract, the formal grievance process is only part of the shield that associations can forge to protect educators. Nasty behavior by a supervisor can be painful enough without necessarily rising to the level of a contract violation or illegal act.
“There’s nothing that says people have to behave well, and frequently they don’t,” observes Claudia Cole Williams, who manages NCAE field and legal services. An effective building rep, especially one backed by a strong building organization, can often solve problems that aren’t covered by the contract.
Even so, there are cases—often hard to anticipate—when it sure helps to have a legally enforceable right to a fair hearing. We’ve gathered stories from around the country that show the range of problems and injustices that NEA members have tackled—and rectified—through grievances. As Gough said, “I knew with an unbiased arbitrator, the truth would come out.”