Gripe or Grievance? There's a Difference, and Building Reps Should Know It

Tips for your next 10-minute meeting

There is often confusion about what constitutes a grievance and what is simply a gripe. Here are some guidelines.

A grievance results from a violation of a teacher's contract. For example, a teacher may bring a grievance if she is required to supervise students during her lunch break, or if he has been told to provide a doctor's note after a three-day absence when the contract specifies medical documentation may be requested for absences exceeding four consecutive days.

To understand what constitutes a grievance, you must know exactly what is in your contract.

A complaint about a condition or incident that does not violate the contract, district evaluation plan, board policy, or federal or state law may be legitimate—but it does not constitute a grievance. Complaints that are not actually contract disputes might center on things like insulting remarks or name-calling. Although there is no legal remedy for a gripe, building reps are still encouraged to advocate for their teachers informally and work toward solutions.

Even when a teacher's complaint centers on a contract violation, keep in mind that filing a grievance is not necessarily the first step. Many situations can be resolved without filing formal grievances.

When you are faced with a complaint—whether it meets the definition of a grievance or not—there are certain steps every building rep should follow:

  1. Gather all the facts, and have the teacher fill out an internal form.
  2. Apply the facts to the relevant contract language, if any.
  3. Contact your association president and grievance chair about the issue.

Whether they are grievances or gripes, the way members' concerns are handled at the local level often determines how teachers feel about their union membership. When your members ask what they get for their dues dollars, remind them that one of the most important things they get is YOU—a representative in their building asserting every possible defense and remedy to resolve their job-related issues.

Review your contract. At your next 10-minute meeting, go over some of the situations that could result in a grievance and remind your colleagues that you are not only their contract enforcer but also their advocate.

Additional resources for building representatives are available at cea.org/members/buildingreps/.