A newsletter from JALMC
From the October, 1997 issue of
Resolving Issues Early
Here is the problem today for a local union steward. A member comes to you and asks you why their grievance has not been resolved. "It amounts to a few hours overtime," they tell you. "Why does it take four months to get paid?" Good question, you say to yourself. Why must it take so long?
An experienced steward understands the grievance process and his/her key role in making the procedure work. It begins and hopefully ends with the steward and member. No step two or three. No arbitration.
This might sound like heresy but it is common sense. Few grievances should ever go up the grievance ladder, and even fewer should go to arbitration. When a large number of grievances go up the grievance ladder, there is a serious problem with the procedure and its use. And that often signals a poor relationship between the employer and the local union.
Why should issues be resolved early?
Let's also go through a reality check. Your intentions may be the best, but the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. Supervisors may not see early issue resolution as in their best interest. They might view sitting down with you to discuss issues as giving up some of the little power that they have. They may also not be in the position to resolve issues informally. Usually, these are the same supervisors who are hostile to any kind of reasonable request. But there is still a strong case for an informal discussion with management on workplace issues.
Where they can feel comfortable, stewards should take advantage of "open door" policies to meet and discuss issues with supervisors. Unless local union policy dictates otherwise, there is no reason why a steward cannot schedule a pre-grievance meeting with his/her counterpart in management.
We already do some of this "meet and discuss" when we go into the supervisor's office over the nonpayment of overtime or problems with work scheduling. A few TWU locals have integrated a pre-grievance meeting prior to step one. If the two sides cannot resolve the issue, it is then reduced to a written grievance and presented at a step one meeting. Some of our airline locals call efficiency meetings or round tables, which are more formalized meetings with longer agendas. But they serve the same purpose as first-level pre-grievance discussions.
If we can begin to meet and discuss, we can also begin to carve out areas where we can successfully resolve bargaining issues. And by doing so we can spend more of our time on other key steward roles such as organizing and political action.
From: TWU Express, 80 West End Ave., New York, NY 10023.