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Workplace Disputes

When Confronted by a Co-worker, Call Your UniServ Director

By Dave Arnold

When I worked in a factory many years ago, I witnessed my share of disputes between co-workers – everything from petty squabbles and heated verbal arguments to all-out bloody war. Thank God those days are behind me and I’m a school custodian where most of the disputes I witness are between strong-willed children on the playground.

Warring Factions

School employees, however, aren’t totally above stooping to petty clashes. I imagine all educators have seen disputes between teachers, parents, and education support professionals (ESPs).

The National Education Association (NEA) is often referred to as the Education Family. That is appropriate and complimentary in my mind. It’s evidence of how close-knit many of us are. We often speak of Association members as brothers and sisters. But like all families, sibling rivalries can develop. This can lead to squabbling.

My UniServ director, Marcus Albrecht, told me that instances between out-of-control members are rare. When it does occur, UniServ directors are asked to step in. As a hypothetical example, let’s suppose that a female parapro is offended by a male teacher’s actions or remarks and accuses him of sexual harassment. With both of the individuals being NEA members, the Association is obligated to represent them both, each having an assigned UniServ director.

Beyond NEA Jurisdiction

Marcus says that having two Association representatives working with two opposing members can settle disputes quickly and equitably. If it is a matter of a simple misunderstanding, then working relationships are often restored 100 percent. However, if one party truly violates the trust and comfort level of another, as well as several local laws, then justice moves beyond the jurisdiction of NEA and into the realm of lawyers and courtrooms.

We have all seen what can happen when representatives aren’t there to help navigate the storm. If you watch the news, you’ve seen too often a disgruntled worker taking out his or her frustrations by gunning down co-workers. Many times innocent employees are killed. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, injuries from workplace violence accounts for 18 percent of violent crimes reported. When the victim is a casual acquaintance or “friend” of the assailant, the percentage climbs to 39 percent of all violent crimes.

Educators are More Civil Than Most

The good news is that violent crimes in schools account for less than one-half of one percent of total crimes reported.  Our chances as educators are good that we can finish out our service without any serious confrontations. On the other hand, school employees have the greatest likelihood of being victimized by an acquaintance.
Before getting involved in a dispute it would help to keep in mind the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It also helps to watch your back, and call your UniServ director should things get out of hand.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.