For the previous two years, BUFA’s Grievance Panel has been “Member Owned and Operated.” BUFA members’ issues are dealt with by other BUFA members who are trained, experienced members of the BUFA Grievance Panel.
Before this time, the BUFA Executive Director and the BUFA Grievance Officer handled members’ issues and consulted members of a BUFA Grievance Committee as required, but in January 2013, the members of the BUFA Grievance Panel, under written Terms of Reference approved by the BUFA Executive, became significantly more active, meeting monthly to discuss issues; receiving regular training in grievance handling processes; receiving appointments to represent members with questions, complaints or grievances; investigating members’ issues; presenting members’ cases in meetings of the BUFA Grievance Panel and in formal grievance meetings with the Administration; and advising both the BUFA Grievance Officer and the BUFA Executive on grievance related matters. The members of the Grievance Panel and an introduction to grievance handling processes can be found in the Grievance Corner on the BUFA web site.
This transition to an active grievance handling role for members of the BUFA Grievance Panel has mirrored the transition of BUFA from a Faculty Association in which decisions were made and member services were provided primarily by paid staff in Executive Director positions to a “member owned and operated” Faculty Association where it is BUFA members, supported by three experienced and knowledgeable paid staff providing administrative support in the BUFA Office, who make decisions and provide services to other BUFA members.
BUFA has been on this journey to increase member mobilization, increase member communication, increase transparency and accountability to members, and increase member engagement and commitment for over four years, and the BUFA Grievance Panel is playing a key role in that transition.
Of course, BUFA is not the only Faculty Association in Ontario and Canada that has been transitioning to a “member mobilizing” model, and Faculty Associations elsewhere mobilize their members in many different ways. There are a wide variety of Faculty Association structures and processes that can and do meet the needs of members and, in Ontario and across Canada, there is widespread recognition of, and respect for, for this variety of approaches.
In order to provide excellent service to BUFA members, the members of the BUFA Grievance Panel require and receive excellent administrative support by dedicated staff in the BUFA office; specialized software and hardware for secure communication and document storage; opinions and representation provided by legal counsel on retainer; and legal and professional support, including training and networking, provided by OCUFA and CAUT, the provincial and national associations to which BUFA belongs.
The annual CAUT Workshop for Senior Grievance Officers was held most recently in Ottawa from December 12 to 14, 2014, and is an excellent example of the indispensable training and networking provided by the national and provincial associations to which BUFA belongs. Dave Whitehead, BUFA’s Grievance Officer, and Francine McCarthy, BUFA’s Assistant Grievance Officer, both attended this workshop, networked with CAUT professional and legal staff including David Robinson, CAUT’s recently appointed Executive Director, and Paula Turtle, CAUT General Counsel, and networked with Grievance Officers from other faculty associations across Canada. In addition, Dave and Francine participated in sessions developed around a theme of “best practices in grievance handling models” organized in order share best practices and inform the development of a Grievance Handling Manual by CAUT. At the workshop, sessions were also held on ways to bring down equity barriers and diversity barriers to accessing the grievance process, ensuring that confidentiality is maintained in the grievance handling process, and a review of significant recent grievance arbitration awards and labour-related court decisions across Canada.
The final workshop session was facilitated by Paul Jones, CAUT’s Policy and Education Officer. In this final session, Chantal Sundaram, who is Assistant Executive Director at CAUT and the CAUT staff-person assigned on a regular basis to assist BUFA at the local level on issues concerning both collective bargaining and grievance handling, and Dave Whitehead, BUFA’s Grievance Officer, co-presented on “Policy Formulation: Developing a Manual on Best Practices for Structuring Grievance Handling.”
During this session, Paul Jones announced that he expected that this new CAUT Grievance Handling Manual could be available as soon as the spring of 2015.
In summary, both BUFA and the BUFA Grievance Panel are on a journey to become increasingly “member owned and operated.” The challenges are many and the path is not straight and narrow, but the rewards for members of our Faculty Association in terms of increased engagement and commitment, better representation and better service are significant and many.