4 Not-So-Obvious Reasons Why Grievances Are Valuable in the Union Workplace

Virtually every union contract contains a grievance/arbitration procedure, which is the way the union and the employer tackle disagreements about workplace rights covered by the contract.  Filing a grievance is the equivalent of starting a lawsuit: you put in writing what you believe another party has done that is contrary to the law, and what action will be necessary to correct the situation.  If after going through a series of procedural steps the dispute is not resolved, ten the last step of the grievance process – arbitration – is the equivalent of appearing before a judge to argue the case out and obtain a final resolution, one way or the other.

Why Grieve?

The natural inclination is to think about pursuing a grievance only if it looks like it has a reasonably good chance of coming up a winner.  Why file a grievance in the first place, unless your union is determined to take the case all the way to arbitration if the employer doesn’t back down?

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There may be lots of good reasons for a union to file a grievance that doesn’t expect to “win.”

1. Fire a Warning Shot
There are times when it doesn’t make sense to think about fighting the employer to the death on a particular action.  It may just not be worth it to arbitrate a relatively minor erosion of existing working conditions, or what looks like a one-time event.  At the same time, rather than do nothing, a group grievance could serve to put the employer on notice that its action has not gone unnoticed, and that if it tries the same maneuver again, it may well have a serious fight on its hands.

2. Shine a Light
One of the most frustration experiences in the life of a union representative is to hear and employer say; “That’s just you complaining, none of the people you say you represent even care.”  Sometimes it takes a grievance filed by an employee – or two or three or more – to get the employer to acknowledge that a particular problem is real and needs to be addressed.

3. Build a Record
One not entirely humorous definition of paranoia is “a heightened appreciation of reality.”  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw a line between an isolated memo taking you to task for something and the first deadly serious shot in your supervisor’s war against you.  If there may be a suspension or termination action looming in your future, sometimes the wisest course of action is to begin to build a written record in your defense right away.

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4. Forge Employee Unity
It may well be that, for one reason or another, an immediate practical resolution of a particular problem may not be in the cards.  But a grievance – particularly a group grievance – might be just what is needed to start building solidarity among those wronged by a particular supervisor or policy.  If you and others can organize and take a small action, like filing a grievance, this may be the first step toward you and your co-workers later doing whatever it takes to fight – and win on this or a bigger issue.

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YOUR TURN

How have you used your right to file Grievances in the workplace?  What experiences can you share with other Union members?  We want to hear from you… sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds.  And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.

Union Membership Hits New Low

Fewer American workers belong to labor unions than at any time since the government began tracking membership, according to a new report released Thursday.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said just 10.7 percent of American workers were members of labor unions in 2016, down from 11.1 percent the previous year, and down from 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year the bureau collected union statistics. The number of union workers dropped almost every year during the Obama administration.

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“These numbers bear out a trend that’s been underway for some years, and it puts into starker relief the urgency of the moment for labor, now that the Trump administration is in power,” said Joseph McCartin, director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University.

In 27 states, fewer than one in 10 workers are union members. Just 1.6 percent of South Carolina workers are members of labor unions.

On the other end of the spectrum, nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are members of a union, and almost 20 percent of those employed in Hawaii pay union dues.

More than half of the 14.6 million union workers in the nation live in just seven states — California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio.

The long-term decline in union membership comes as the American manufacturing industry has fallen precipitously. The automotive industry alone, once the bedrock of the labor movement, now employs far fewer people than it did during its heyday.

Federal labor laws, first written after the Great Depression and seldom updated thanks to political gridlock, have hurt the union movement, McCartin said.

“We have a labor law that’s 80 years old, that was created for a different economy than the one we have now,” McCartin said. “As the economy changed and the law remained the same, it became increasingly difficult for unions to organize successfully.”

The long-term trend of declining union membership has been accelerated in some states, where Republican-led legislatures have passed so-called right-to-work laws that allow employees to opt out of paying union dues. Twenty-seven states have right-to-work laws on the books, after Kentucky passed a version earlier this year. Two more states, Missouri and New Hampshire, are moving to implement right-to-work laws in current legislative sessions.

Some companies that once employed thousands of union workers are opting to locate new production and manufacturing facilities in right-to-work states. Boeing, which employs tens of thousands of union workers in Washington, opened a new assembly line that builds its 787 aircraft in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, in 2011.

In recent years, Republicans in such states as Wisconsin and Ohio have targeted public employee unions, one of the last remaining bastions of strong labor participation. Just more than 40 percent of local government employees are members of unions, the BLS reported, the highest rate of any industry segment.

Older workers are most likely to be members of unions, while new entrants into the work force are least likely. Just over 14 percent of workers between the ages of 55 and 64 are union members, while just under 10 percent of those between 25 and 34 belong to unions.

YOUR TURN

What do you think we can do to increase Union Membership? We want to hear from you! Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

The Pros to Joining a Labor Union

Thanks to labor unions, wages have improved, the workweek is shorter and the workplace is safer.

However, employers sometimes complain that unions are harmful to business and to the economy. From an employee standpoint, is being a union member beneficial? Here are some pros of union jobs.

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Better wages. The median weekly income of full-time wage and salary workers who were union members in 2010 was $917, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For nonunion workers, it was $717.

More access to benefits. Some 93 percent of unionized workers were entitled to medical benefits compared to 69 percent of their nonunion peers, according to the National Compensation Survey published last year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey represented about 101 million private industry workers and 19 million state and local government employees.

Unmarried domestic partners — same sex and opposite sex — also had access more often to these benefits if they were unionized. Workers with union representation also had 89 percent of their health insurance premiums paid by their employer for single coverage and 82 percent for family coverage. For nonunion workers, the comparable numbers were 79 percent and 66 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And 93 percent of unionized workers have access to retirement benefits through employers compared to 64 percent of their nonunion counterparts.

Job security. Nonunion employees are typically hired “at will,” meaning they can be fired for no reason. There are exceptions. Employers can’t terminate a worker for discriminatory reasons such as race, religion, age and the like. Nor can they fire an at-will employee for being a whistle-blower and certain other reasons.

However, workers with union jobs can only be terminated for “just cause,” and the misconduct must be serious enough to merit such action. Before an employee can actually be fired, he or she can go through a grievance procedure, and if necessary, arbitration.

Workers who know they can’t easily be fired, will be willing to speak up freely.

Strength in numbers. Unionized workers have more power as a cohesive group than by acting individually. What you gain is the muscle of collective action. Through collective bargaining, workers negotiate wages, health and safety issues, benefits, and working conditions with management via their union.

Seniority. Rules differ among collective bargaining agreements, but in the event of layoffs, employers usually are required to dismiss the most recent hires first and those with the most seniority last — sometimes called “last hired, first fired.”

In some cases, a worker with a union job who has more seniority may receive preference for an open job. Seniority also can be a factor in determining who gets a promotion. The idea is that seniority eliminates favoritism in the workplace. Ultimately, the chief advantage of seniority is it is completely objective.

YOUR TURN

What benefits do you see in being a Union Member? Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page, on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds and don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.