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* What a steward should know
* Steward's responsibilities
* The grievance procedure
* Investigating grievances
* Past practice grievances
* Steward rights
* Just cause for discipline
* Arbitrations
* Breaking in a new boss
* Management rights
 

INVESTIGATING GRIEVANCES       

A Practical How-To Guide

A member - or members come to you. Theyíre mad. Really mad. "Itís unfair...itís a violation of the contract...itís illegal...and itís not right!" You think to yourself, "yeah, this is terrible. Iíd better do something." But what do you do next?
If your answer is "demand an explanation from management," you may want to think again. Sure, some problems are obvious grievances, but most of the time youíll need to know a lot more about whatís going on. Jumping to conclusions based on false, faulty, or inadequate information will only undermine your credibility, and the unionís.
Know the issues thoroughly. . . It's the only way to handle grievances well.

Investigate First:

Remember, a member whoís upset, angry, and frustrated may not always give you an accurate picture of what happened. A disgruntled member may sometimes exaggerate and leave out important details. Itís up to you to investigate, look at the facts, and then decide on a strategy for dealing with the problem.

The first step in your investigation is to conduct effective interviews.
Get the information you need from an upset member after theyíve calmed down, either by taking them aside and talking for awhile, or by meeting with them later.

Here are some time-tested tips for getting the most information.
Make sure youíre relaxed ó and take your time. Listening is the key, so control your feelings and concentrate on hearing what the member says. Write down important facts, including who, what, when, where, how, why, and the names of any witnesses.
 

Encourage the member to "get it all out" (both facts and feelings).
Ask questions that canít be answered yes-or-no when you donít understand something or when you need to clear something up, such as: "Why do you think this happened?" Or, "Give me an example."
Once in awhile, repeat back to the worker what youíve heard them say. This checks your accuracy and often brings out overlooked facts.
Avoid making judgments during the interview. Form your opinion later, after youíve gathered the facts.
Avoid making promises about the actions you will take. Assure the worker that you will investigate and let them know when youíll get back to them. Make sure you do!
If you donít know the answer to a question, donít guess.

Promise the member youíll find out and get back to them (and do it!).

A Full Investigation:

Interview everyone connected to the problem in the same manner. Talk to other workers, any witnesses, other stewards, even foremen and supervisors. Never depend on a single version of what happened, if you can avoid it. And remember, interviews are one way of getting at the facts, but theyíre not the only way.
Check documents and records that could help you decide what happened and what should be done. They include:

  • Past grievances, stewardís notes, and arbitration decisions;
  • The contract and supplemental agreements;
  • Employer policies and work rules, and,
  • Information that you may need from the boss.

When youíve gathered all the facts, then itís time to put your case together (if there is one), and determine what strategy (big plan) and tactics (smaller moves) that can be used to solve it.

Other Sources for getting Information:

Having good and complete information is vital in fighting grievances. But where and how do we get it?
First we should look to ourselves. An informed steward not only knows the contract, but the past practices of the department. A wealth of knowledge exists among the members as well. And of course the local union should keep records. But sometimes that still isnít enough to be properly prepared.
Help can come from an unexpected sourceóthe employer! Itís not because they want to provide information. The union is entitled to it under the Labour Relations Act (LRA).


The steward may request information:

  • Before a grievance is filed to see if the contract may have been violated.
  • At or between any step of the grievance procedure.
  • After the final step to prepare for or consider a possible arbitration case.

Itís best to be specific about what we want and, unless the information is immediately available, to put the request in writing.
Remember, the information must bear some relevance to the actual or potential grievance. The union is not allowed to use requests merely to conduct a "fishing expedition" through company records. Nevertheless all sorts of company documents data and factual information are fair game. There have even been cases where the boss has "thrown in the towel" on a grievance rather than go to the trouble of digging up the information requested.
 

Some Examples of Information the Union May Request
Accident records
Attendance records
Bargaining notes
Company memos
Contracts
Correspondence
Disciplinary records
Equipment specifications
Job evaluations
Health and safety studies
Inspection records
Insurance policies
Interview notes
Job assignment records
Job descriptions
Material safety data sheets
Names of witnesses
"Notes to file"
(i.e. database source)
Payroll records
Performance reviews
Personnel files
Photographs
Reports and studies
Salary records
Security Guard records
Seniority lists
Supervisorís notes
Time study records
Training manuals