Line of Communication
The steward plays a central role in settling disputes between the union and management or a worker and management. When management has violated a worker’s rights or has not lived up to its obligations, the steward’s job is to represent the interests of the aggrieved worker and the union in trying to settle the dispute
What is a grievance?
Members come to their stewards with problems, and it is sometimes difficult to determine whether the problem qualifies as a legitimate grievance or not. There are five types of violations that can serve as the basis for a grievance. They include violations of:
1. The collective bargaining agreement;
2. State or federal law;
3. Company rules/policies;
4. Fair treatment; and
5. Past Practice.
Processing a Grievance
In the overwhelming majority of union contracts, the union has the right to file a grievance. If you think an important issue is at stake, under most union contracts, you needn’t wait for a member to file a grievance.
Whether a worker’s rights are violated on the job, or the union files a grievance on an issue, you are the first line of defense. In most unions, your role is to investigate thoroughly any complaint from the beginning and decide what action to take to resolve it. The first step is to differentiate between a grievance and a gripe. Often, employees assume anything they don’t like about the job is a grievance. Many times, the problem is not one that requires a grievance, which is a formal union response to a violation of a worker’s rights under the contract, the law or past practice. Other complaints are not grievances and should be solved through other means.
Most Common Types of Grievances
1. Absenteeism and Tardiness
2. Work Performance
3. Rule Violations
6. Off-Duty Conduct
7. Personal Appearance
8. Job Classification
How do you determine whether the appropriate action is to file a grievance?
1. Interview the Grievant
2. Gather Facts
3. Analyze the Facts
4. Write the Grievance
5. File the Grievance
6. Present the Grievance
Steps to Grievance Filing
Step 1: Interview the Grievant
Listen well. Most of your time should be spent listening. Let the other person do most of the talking. Listen attentively and sympathetically. Let the grievant express his feelings about what has happened. Don’t rush the conversation. Give the person time to say what needs to be said. The grievant may be upset, so ride with the storm. Don’t get emotionally involved and let anger prevent an understanding of what is at the heart of all this.
Ask questions. Your job is to get the facts of the case. Don’t settle for generalities and vague statements such as, “They’re giving me too much work” or “She just doesn’t like me.” Try to get the full story by asking for details: dates, examples, witnesses. Be sure to take detailed notes so there is a record to check.
Next, recap the story and ask the grievant to correct anything you have misstated.
Step 2: Gather Facts
Find witnesses. Talk to people who may have witnessed the incident or be able to verify facts in the grievant’s story. Interview witnesses separately. This will bring out any inconsistencies. Don’t settle for hearsay. Get your information directly from the people involved, not second- or third-hand. If someone says, “Billy told me that…” or “Maria heard…” go talk to Billy or Maria and find out directly from them what happened. Investigate thoroughly until you are satisfied you have a clear picture of what happened.
Check the files. You have a right to get information from the employer to process a grievance in an informed manner. For example, if an employee is disciplined for absenteeism, you have a right to see attendance records. Check the contract, workplace rules, federal and state laws, the records of your local and any other relevant documents. Find out what past practices have been. Have other workers with similar records been treated the same way?
Step 3: Analyze the Facts
Is it a grievance? There are two kinds of grievances—disciplinary and nondisciplinary.
In a disciplinary grievance, the employer has disciplined an employee. If the employee, through the union, files a grievance to protest the discipline, the employer generally must prove there was “just cause” for its action. Your job is to determine if there was, in the union’s view, just cause.
There are seven tests of just cause:
1. Notice. Did managers tell the employee what level of performance was expected? Did the employer give the employee
(and, in some contracts, the union) reasonable notice that discipline would be meted if the employee’s actions
2. Reasonable work rule. Is the rule the employee is accused of violating a reasonable rule for the work she is doing?
3. Investigation before discipline. Did management investigate and verify the charge before taking action?
4. Fair investigation. Were managers fair in their investigation? Or did they stack the deck by overemphasizing certain
facts and points, perhaps taking them out of context?
5. Proof. Does management have enough facts to prove the employee actually committed an infraction, or are
supervisors relying on hearsay?
6. Equal treatment. Is the employee being treated any differently than other employees in the same situation?
7. Punishment fits the crime. Did the punishment seem punitive and vindictive rather than corrective and remedial? Did
the discipline follow the alleged misconduct within a reasonable time? Was it consistent with the idea of progressive
discipline—that is, was there slight punishment for a first offense, harsher punishment for the second and so on? Did
management overreact? Did the discipline violate any conditions of the contract, work rules or law?
If the grievance does not involve discipline, the union or employee has to prove its case. You must provide evidence that management is guilty of one of the following:
• Violation of the contract,
• Violation of past practices,
• Illegal discrimination,
• Violation of state or federal laws or the employer’s rules.
Step 4: Write the Grievance
After you have gathered all the facts, write a short, concise statement of the grievance that includes the six W’s:
• WHO was involved in the incident?
• WHEN did the incident take place?
• WHAT happened? Explain this in clear, direct terms.
• WHERE exactly did the incident take place?
• WHY is this a grievance (contract violation, disciplinary action, etc.)?
• WHAT SETTLEMENT or corrective action does the union want?
Many unions use a grievance form that helps you organize the results of your investigation. If your union provides such a form, fill it out thoroughly.
Step 5: File the Grievance
Every contract has its own rules and time limits for filing grievances. You must know the time limits and meet them. Also, you should keep the grievants and the union informed of any actions you take.
Step 6: Present the Grievance
Under law, when dealing with management on workplace issues, including grievances, you are the equal of management and should act and be treated that way. Establish a cordial but businesslike relationship.
For the same reason, when meeting with management on union business, you have every right to request to meet in a conference room or similarly neutral area rather than the boss’s office.
When presenting the grievance, remember your role is to win and to keep the union strong. You are not there to make the supervisor look bad or to show what a genius you are. You do not win friends and influence people by going in and pounding on the desk. It only stiffens the opposition’s resolve. The surest way to win is to find out what the supervisor really wants, and then show, if possible, that both sides most likely will get what they want by resolving the grievance at this point.
When presenting the case, stick to facts. Do not add opinions or hearsay. Get to the main point of the supervisor’s argument: Try to narrow the differences between management and the union by presenting options that will benefit both sides. And remember that a good negotiator also is a good listener. The more the supervisor talks, the more he may reveal about motives and desires regarding the grievance. Or you may pick up information to help fashion a solution or gain knowledge that will help win the grievance now or in the future.
Finally, to avoid any future misunderstanding, make sure all agreements with management on a solution are in writing. If you and management cannot come to a mutually satisfactory agreement, know what your next step will be. Check your contract for options. Many contracts provide for arbitration if the two parties cannot agree.
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