Joint committee hopes to speed resolution of union grievances
Panel of university, UPTE representatives will review cases; pilot program runs to September 2002

By. D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

05 December 2001 | Staff in the technical bargaining unit represented by the University Professional and Technical Employees union (UPTE) can now get their grievances resolved more quickly and perhaps more amicably by using a recently created Complaint Resolution Committee.

An employee, along with the union, may choose to have the committee — staffed with both campus managers and UPTE bargaining unit members — resolve a grievance, alleviating the need to move the case to expensive and time-consuming arbitration.

"A similar type of group is used by members of the Building Trades Council's skilled craft bargaining unit, and it has stopped a lot of cases from going to arbitration," said labor relations specialist Dennis Marino. "We hope the same thing will happen with the Complaint Resolution Committee."

Processing a grievance through to arbitration can take as long as 1.5 years and cost the union and the university thousands of dollars, he said.

Implementation of the committee was approved this past summer during contract negotiations between the university and UPTE. This one-year pilot program is also in place at UC Santa Cruz and UC San Francisco. The committee will not hear dismissal or medical separation cases.

Here's how the process works:

• An employee files a grievance with the labor relations office. The employee's supervisor responds within 15 days.

• The employee may appeal the decision. If this happens, the case is reviewed again, this time by representatives from the labor relations unit and the employee‚s department. A response is delivered within 15 days.

• If this second-step response is still not satisfactory, the employee and UPTE can choose to have the Complaint Resolution Committee hear the case.

Bargaining unit employees are not required to use the committee and may follow the traditional grievance resolution process instead. If they use the committee and the committee's decision is not unanimous, the case can still move to arbitration. A unanimous decision by the Complaint Resolution Committee is final and binding on the employee, UPTE and the university.

Use of the committee is encouraged because it can minimize disruption to the employee and the campus and ease the often adversarial nature of the current grievance process, say campus and union representatives.

"This new program will significantly diminish the amount of friction between the union and the university," said senior lab mechanician Doug Brown, chief steward of UPTE's Berkeley local. "Instead of letting things fester for up to a year waiting for arbitration, conflicts can be resolved in a more timely manner."

"The committee is less legalistic and provides a more relaxed forum for people to tell their story," said Marino. "Arbitration is like a trial, where evidence is formally presented and witnesses are called."

Eleven campus managers and 17 bargaining unit members, who all have received special mediation training, comprise the committee. A panel of four members — two from each group — hears each case. Managers selected to sit on the panel will be from different control units than the employee, and the union panelists will not be closely affiliated with the employee.

Decisions made by the committee will be more equitable, said Brown, because input from both the university and the union determines the outcome of the case.

Both Marino and Brown said they hope the committee's work will improve relations between these two organizations as they gain a better understanding of each other's position and work together to resolve issues.

The pilot program expires in September 2002. At that time, university and union officials will decide if it should continue, based on usage of the committee and employees' level of satisfaction with the process. To make the program permanent, it must be included in the next UPTE contract.


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