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Hartford teacher files complaint over union representation

A long-time Hartford gym teacher has filed a complaint with the State Board of Labor Relations against the Hartford Federation of Teachers (HFT) alleging the union refused to arbitrate a grievance on his behalf because he was not a union member.

According to the complaint filed by John Grande, “The Union breached its duty of fair representation when it refused to arbitrate a grievance on Complainant’s behalf due to the fact that he was not a member of the Union. Specifically, the Union’s First Vice President Corey Moses told Complainant that arbitration is reserved only for members of the Union.”

The complaint alleges that HFT is violating state statute by not equally representing all members of the bargaining unit equally and that the union “committed a prohibited practice” by attempting to coerce membership through withholding services.

According to Connecticut’s statutes regarding teachers and superintendents, “The organization designated as the exclusive representative of a teachers’ or administrators’ unit shall have a duty of fair representation to the members of such unit.”

Grande filed a grievance complaint after he was “targeted for discipline after two of his colleagues complained about his reaction to a mandatory training on ‘privilege,’” according to Nathan McGrath, president of the Fairness Center, a non-profit legal firm that is assisting Grande with his complaint. “John contends he did nothing to warrant discipline and that school administrators have not given him a fair hearing. John filed a grievance to defend himself, but the contract between the school district and the union lets the union control whether his grievance can go any further.”

Unions don’t have to arbitrate a grievance denial. They make a decision about whether the grievance is worth taking to arbitration, but because Grande alleges he was denied arbitration based on his union membership status, it made the issue a matter for the state labor board.

Under the HFT contract, only the union, not individuals, can bring a matter to arbitration.

“Unions exist to represent employees, but teachers’ union officials have abandoned John, a 30-year teacher, because he isn’t a union member,” McGrath said in a press release. “Connecticut law requires public-sector unions to fairly represent all employees regardless of membership status. John is asking the board of labor relations to enforce the law.”

The Hartford Board of Education is also named in the complaint because the collective bargaining agreement does not allow individual employees to submit a grievance for arbitration.

Grande recently settled in federal court over a libel case in which he claimed a Hartford school principal defamed him by accusing him of threatening behavior. The case stemmed from Grande wearing headphones to block out noise because of his tinnitus.

The Hartford Federation of Teachers did not respond to request for comment. 

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Marc E. Fitch, Senior Investigative Reporter

Marc E. Fitch

Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels, along with numerous freelance reporting jobs and publications. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University.

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