Our Rights

Your Rights - An Overview

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Your Rights and Enforcing Them

The Professional Staff Congress/CUNY as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the instructional staff employed at CUNY represents and advocates for its members’ rights and benefits in the workplace. Your rights in the workplace are derived from the PSC/CUNY collective bargaining agreement, the Bylaws of the CUNY Board of Trustees and from various federal, state and municipal laws.

The PSC/CUNY agreement is a negotiated contract between CUNY and the PSC and contains the compensation, hours, working conditions and rights agreed upon by the union and CUNY management for the instructional staff. It is the primary source of your rights on the job. It covers a broad range of working conditions, such as personnel files, workload, leaves and holidays, fellowship and scholar incentive awards and reassigned time for research and scholarly work. It includes protections against arbitrary and capricious actions by administrators and provides for due process in many aspects of your employment at CUNY. For example, the contract provides evaluation and observation procedures for full-time and adjunct faculty and professional staff (Article 18).

The Grievance Process

The contract is enforced through Article 20, the Complaint, Grievance and Arbitration procedure contained in the Agreement. Should your rights be violated by CUNY management, it may be addressed formally or informally through the contract. The grievance counselor can sometimes resolve workplace problems through the informal complaint procedure. Better yet, a group of members accompanied by their grievance counselor could meet with the supervisor or department chair. This could be done before filing a grievance (when there may be a better chance to solve the problem), but the grievance must still be filed within 30 days of the contract violation. Or it could be done instead of filing a grievance. The grievance procedure is the formal problem-solving process found in the contract. Members of the PSC are represented by chapter grievance counselors at steps one and two of the grievance process. If the grievance is still not resolved, the final step is a hearing with a professional arbitrator whose decision is final and binding, and the PSC provides legal counsel.

In addition to the complaint and grievance procedures, the contract is enforced in several other ways, including informal problem-solving efforts and discussions with management. The contract is enforced at the local chapter level through labor-management meetings with college presidents and other administrators. At the PSC Central Office the PSC’s Contract Enforcement Committee, chaired by First Vice President Steve London, meets monthly to discuss ongoing workplace issues, monitor changes in CUNY policies and develop legal and contractual strategies. At the local level, chapters have local contract enforcement committees or grievance committees that provide contract training to the membership and support for organizing around contractual issues.

Obey Now, Grieve Later

A general rule that arbitrators apply is that workers are expected to follow management’s instructions and directives. If the worker believes the instruction to be unfair or a violation of the contract, he/she can file a grievance at a later time. Arbitrators have customarily held that failure to obey management directions can lead to the employee being charged with—and disciplined for—insubordination, even if the employer's initial action did in fact violate the contract.

There are two recognized exceptions to the “obey now, grieve later” principle. Employees may refuse a supervisor’s order when following the order would either 1) result in doing something illegal; or 2) put their health and safety in “imminent danger.” However, if management takes disciplinary action after such a refusal, the employee must prove that his/her belief about the unsafe condition or illegality was objectively justified.

Weingarten Rights

In 1975, the US Supreme Court ruled that all employees in the private sector have the right to have a union representative present during investigatory interviews, which may lead to disciplinary action in NLRB v. Weingarten (420 US 251, 88 LRRM 2689). These rights also apply to public sector employees. The Taylor Law grants a public employee the right, upon the employee's demand, to representation by a union representative when at the time of questioning by the employer it reasonably appears that he or she may be the subject of a potential disciplinary action. If representation is requested, a reasonable period of time shall be afforded to the employee to obtain such representation.

When you believe that a meeting with your supervisor may lead to discipline, such as a student complaint, you have the right to request representation before or during the meeting. After you make the request, the supervisor has three choices: a) grant the request and wait for the union representative’s arrival; b) deny the request and end the meeting immediately; or c) give you the choice of either ending the meeting or continuing without representation. If the supervisor denies the request and continues to ask questions, you have the right to refuse to answer. In addition, the supervisor may be committing an improper practice. However, management is under no legal obligation to inform you of your Weingarten rights--you must assert them yourself.