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Problem Solving

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 situation.

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


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