Reasonable People Disagree:
A Guide to Joint Union-Management Problem-Solving at Harvard
Printable version of this brochure
A list of resources and references
The Harvard Union of Clerical & Technical Workers (HUCTW) and Harvard University
are committed to solving workplace problems. We have found that it is highly
effective to do this in a collaborative rather than adversarial way. Our
negotiated joint problem-solving process is designed around that. Efforts
to resolve individual problems in the workplace are most successful when
union members and managers approach difficult situations openly, with
creativity and a willingness to listen to one another.
Since disagreements arise, problem-solving is designed so that the people
involved can work jointly through disagreements and solve the problem,
while maintaining professionalism and respect for each other. Problems
are often solved at the most local and informal level, between individual
members and supervisors/managers. A union representative and a local Human
Resources officer can be helpful at that stage and this results in real
workable solutions based on the knowledge of those not too far from the
There will still be times when issues can't be resolved this way. They can
be referred next to the Regional Problem Solving Team (RPST).
The team has equal numbers of union members and managers. Members are in
contact regularly, poised to help when contacted.
When an individual problem is forwarded to them by the University
Problem Solving Team, after the person seeking assistance contacts the HUCTW
office for help at that level, a union-management pair
is selected. Together the pair will interview relevant parties and review
pertinent documents. The pair will work with the parties to develop a
resolution that improves the situation and is acceptable to everyone
involved. Closure requires some flexibility on both sides. The process
should normally take no more than six weeks.
Ordinarily, the mediative process of joint problem-solving at the Regional
level brings about resolution. If a mutually agreeable outcome is not reached,
the union member may request that the case go to the next step, the University
Problem Solving Team (UPST). This request should be make within ten days from
the end of RPST involvement.
The UPST is composed of equal numbers of union leaders and University
administrators or HR professionals. The team works in the same fashion as
the Regional Team. The same six week time frame applies at this level.
The UPST also monitors problem-solving activity campus-wide, and offers
training and assistance to the broader problem-solving community.
RPST and UPST resolutions to which all parties have agreed are binding;
participants are expected to live up to their end of the bargain. Problem-solving
solutions are not legally precedent-setting, although we try to make sure
our community learns from its experiences and re-uses good solutions.
If resolution is not reached at the UPST level, the next and last step of the
negotiated problem-solving process is Mediation to Conclusion. The HUCTW
Executive Board can be asked to consider referring a union member's case to
an outside neutral mediator jointly selected and paid for
by the union and the University. The mediator will make recommendations for
the resolution of the problem and, if a consensus is still not reached, will
make a final binding decision about outcome.
How is problem-solving at Harvard different from other places?
This problem-solving process replaces a grievance procedure that is traditionally
used in may unionized settings. The grievance model can often center around
antagonism, inflexibility, and litigious paperwork to determine if contract
violations have occurred. Our process is about people working out differences;
creating real progress, mutually crafted solutions, and peace.
Who initiates problem-solving? How does it start?
Ordinarily a union member and her union representative ask for help from a
Regional Problem Solving Tea. A manager or human resources officer can request
help, too. When a case comes to an RPST, all relevant parties (union member,
supervisor, union representative, HR officer) are notified. It is recommended
that RPST involvement be initiated when workplace conflict continues over a two
to three month period and any time there is a disagreement about a first
warning letter in a progressive disciplinary process.
If the problem is about work performance, what happens to the disciplinary
process during problem-solving?
It depends on the particular case. Sometimes it makes sense for the disciplinary
process to be put on pause, by mutual agreement, during joint problem-solving.
This allows for a cooling off period and gives problem-solving a chance to
determine if a progressive disciplinary process is appropriate and/or on track.
Would I get in trouble with my supervisor for requesting problem-solving?
No. Problem-solving is embraced by the community as a helpful tool,
one that can build and strengthen collaborative relations between management
and union members. No one need fear reprisals for requesting problem-solving:
the process is negotiated and sanctioned by the University.
Who are the problem-solvers?
They are members of the Harvard community appointed, trained, and supported
by the University and the Union. They will necessarily maintain confidentiality.
Resources / References