There is a lot of concern about Letter in File (LIF) grievances in the new tentative accord between the city and the UFT, but the issue doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. Here’s why:

There are several hundred LIF’s every year and the percentage won at grievance is very low because the burden falls on the grievant to prove that the claims made in the letter are “inaccurate” and “unfair.” Even if a letter makes it all the way to arbitration, the burden continues to fall on the grievant to prove that the supervisor’s judgment was based on inaccurate information and unfair conclusions.

As a chapter leader and arbitration advocate, I have argued many of these letters and though I had some surprising victories for members, I’ve had more “wins” by resolving the conflict between the parties.

Many times the grievance is generated by the hurt feelings of teachers who after long and satisfactory service get their first negative evaluation of a lesson. I know it feels like an insult, because I’ve gotten those letters, too.

After 10 years of satisfactory service, I was observed during a middle school poetry class. I read a poem by eecummings to students so I could mimic how a poem should be read, especially a cummings poem. Well, that was enough for the supervisor and he found that because I read the poem first and not a student, the lesson was unsatisfactory. So I appended my rebuttal to his observation letter. A few days later, the principal called me to the office and said that she agreed with my reasoning and removed the letter from the file.

That was instructive to me as a chapter leader and later as a grievance advocate for the union.

By the way, I understand why many chapter leaders would like to have a LIF grievance in their chapter building toolbox. It helps unify their chapters against the administration but nine times out of ten, it does little for the members who received the letter. Most chapter leaders who are successful in getting letters out of members’ files, are the one’s who know how to negotiate and resolve conflict between a teacher and an administrator.

So here’s what you have now: You get a letter in your file; you can informally discuss the letter with the supervisor; you then grieve and you lose; the letter stays in your file forever even after you retire or leave the system.

In the tentative agreement you have: You can’t grieve a letter in your file; you informally discuss a complaint with the supervisor; if there is no disciplinary action taken within three years as a result of that letter, the letter is removed. You can not receive a disciplinary letter in the file regarding bulletin boards, the duration of your lesson in the workshop model and the seating arrangement of your class room.

In my view we’re ahead of the game with the new tentative contract!