One of the main reasons workers join unions is to gain protection against unfair and unjust discipline that employers hand out. Stewards must be ready to handle all sorts of discipline cases, from warnings to suspensions to firings. Stewards must be ready to deal with situations ranging from gross discrimination by the boss on who gets disciplined to union members who sometimes seem to go out of their way to get themselves in trouble.
The first steps of the grievance procedure are probably the most important. This is where most of the investigative work is done by the union steward, the union first states and frames its case, and where the employer states their case. The first two steps of the grievance procedure are where most grievances get settled. Often times “problems” get settled by just having the union steward and the supervisor “talk things out." For that reason, workers sometimes think that grievances are only those problems that go to the final steps of the grievance procedure.
UE stewards have a tough job. But, by keeping in mind some of the pitfalls stewards face while representing members in any UE workplace, the job becomes a little easier to do.
- To defend the members and the union contract, the union has a legal right to seek information from an employer - and the employer has a legal obligation to provide it as long as the union's request is relevant and not unreasonable.
- The employer is required to provide relevant information in a variety of circumstances - don't assume that a grievance has to be filed before you can ask!
When an employer denies a grievance after the first step, it is up to the steward to submit a written grievance. If the grievance is questionable, it is best to have the Chief Steward or Union Committee review the facts, and make the decision on whether to proceed with the grievance.
Here are the basic points to remember when writing a grievance.
A powerful tool for every steward is the understanding and use of past practices. Stewards need to know what constitutes a valid past practice and what are the past practices in their workplace. It is important that all stewards are aware of the past practices so they can defend them from erosion by management.
How should a steward act at a grievance meeting involving a “legally bad but morally right" grievance? How far does the union have to take a weak grievance? What's the best way to protect members' rights in difficult discipline cases?
- Stewards need all the information we can get to effectively represent the members
- One sometimes overlooked source of information is management
- The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives us the right to ask for (and receive) the information we need from the boss to effectively represent our members.
Using organization instead of arbitration is often the best way to resolve grievances.
Why? Arbitration can:
A member — or members — come to you. They’re mad. Really mad. “It’s unfair...it’s a violation of the con-tract...it’s illegal...and it’s not right!” You think to yourself, “yeah, this is terrible. I’d better do something.” But what do you do next?