10 Most Common Mistakes Union Stewards Make

A good Union Steward is many things – an organizer, a negotiator, a counsellor, a peacemaker and a troublemaker. But there are certain things that a steward should avoid at all costs.

Stewards

Here we explore the 10 most common mistakes often made by Union Stewards…

1. Fail to represent fairly
Not only does this leave the union open to being sued for breaching its duty to provide fair representation, it’s just not the right thing to do. It undermines the whole purpose of the union and the very idea of solidarity.

2. Make backroom deals
Management is notorious for trying to get stewards to trade grievances. “I’ll let you have this case if you drop the one we talked about yesterday.” Every member deserves a fair shake and every grievance needs to be evaluated on its own merit. Never agree to anything you would be uncomfortable telling your entire membership about.

3. Promise remedies too quickly
You’re hurting both the member and your credibility if you pass judgement on a grievance prior to a thorough investigation. Only after you have spoken to the grievor and witnesses and consulted the contract, the employer’s rules and past practices are you in a position to make that determination. Given the frequency of poor and mixed arbitration decisions, no steward should ever promise victory.

4. Fail to speak with new workers
The most important way a union gains the support of a new member or a potential new member is by one-on-one contact with the steward. You not only want to provide new workers with information, but need to build a personal relationship and begin to get them involved in union activities from their first day on the job.

5. Fail to adhere to time lines
Even the strongest, iron-clad case can be lost if the time line specified in your contract isn’t followed. Even if management agrees to an extension, it is not in the union’s interest to let problems fester and grow. If you do get a formal extension of time limits, be sure to get it in writing.

6. Let grievance go unfiled
Every grievance that goes unfiled undermines the contract you struggled so hard to win. While most members see changes and problems only in terms of the impact on them, the steward needs to be able to understand a grievance’s impact on the contract and the union as a whole.

RELATED: Automating the Grievance and Arbitration Management Process

7. Meet with management alone
When you meet with management alone, suspicions may arise as to what kinds of deals you’re making. It also allows management to lie or change its story. More importantly, when the steward meets with management alone, it takes away an opportunity for members to participate in the union and to understand that it’s really their organization.

8. Fail to get settlements in writing
Just as you should protect yourself by not meeting alone with management, be sure to get grievance settlements in writing. Putting the settlement in writing helps clarify the issues and keeps management from backing down on their deal.

9. Fail to publicize victories
Publicizing each and every victory is an important way to build your local union. This publicity not only has a chilling effect on the employer, but helps educate your own members on their contractual rights. It also gives you something to celebrate and builds the courage needed to carry on.

10. Fail to organize
Stewards are much more than grievance handlers. They are the key people in the local who mobilize the membership, and they must be talkin’ union and fightin’ union all the time. Each and every grievance and incident must be looked at in terms of how it can increase participation, build the union, and create new leaders.

YOUR TURN

Are you a Union Steward whose learned from experience? What can you add to our list? 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. 

Some Words of Wisdom About Filing A Grievance

All grievance procedures require going through a series of steps, with the contract itself identifying when each step is to take place, what precisely is to occur, and who may or must be involve at each stage of the process. Generally, the procedures get more formal as you go through each of the steps. Some grievances are resolved successfully at the earlier stages of the process, while others are not pursued past a certain point for a variety of reasons. Before we take a look at what the steps of the grievance procedure looks like, here are a few notes of caution.

grievance

First, read through the grievance procedures contained in your collective bargaining agreement. Some of it may look like fairly technical stuff. You’ll probably find requirements as to the format that must be followed in writing up grievances the rules for who receives certain grievance filings, calculation of time frames for processing a grievance (such as the difference between “working days” and “calendar days”), etc. Don’t be intimidate by any of this; your Union Steward has received training in how to process grievances and has additional help to call on if needed. The best advice? Try not to wing it on your own! As soon as something happens that you thin might properly be challenged through the grievance procedure, consult your Steward.

Second, you are to be commended if you familiarize yourself with the provisions of your contract. But don’t automatically assume that, because of what looks like plain language in the contract, there is nothing that can be done to deal with a workplace problem that you have. Sometimes event he plain English in a contract doesn’t mean what it says (or, as the question was put by the Marx Brothers, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”). For example, you may be able to count well enough for it to seem completely clear that too many days have gone by since a particular event occurred for you to meet the time frame set forth in the contract for initiating a grievance. But it’s worth at least consulting with your Steward, since you may learn that there are sometimes unwritten exceptions even to such seemingly clear-cut provisions, such as the grievance time clock stopping for holidays. Or you may learn that there are other mechanisms, besides the grievance procedure, that can be used to address the problem.

Third, don’t make the mistake of assuming that it would be useless to pursue a grievance because you think you’d never be able to get enough evidence to prove your case.

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

The fact is, both your contract and the law probably give your union the right to obtain vast quantities of documents and other information from your employer, if that information is needed to evaluate a potential or pending grievance. So if proof of your grievance over unfair treatment lies in determining how your employer has dealt with co-workers under circumstances similar to yours, your union will probably be able to get hold of the relevant personnel records.

Finally, before just about any workplace complaint is put into writing, an attempt should be made to work through the problem at the lowest level. Even if your contract’s grievance procedure doesn’t specifically call for an informal oral step to start out with, you and/or your Union Steward should talk to a supervisor in an attempt to clear up any misunderstandings or to resolve any disagreement. This is almost always a good idea, in part because once a complaint is committed to writing, parties’ positions tend to harden. And even if an informal attempt to address a problem does not in fact resolve it, it generally has the beneficial effect of clarifying what the problem is and how the parties may see it differently.

YOUR TURN

Even when keeping these items of caution in mind, sometimes informal attempts don’t work. And it’s time to put something in writing. Have you initiated or filed a grievance in your workplace? What words of caution do you have to add to our list? 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.

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?

grievance

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.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Grievance Manager Custom Software for Your Union

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.

RELATED: Automate Your Grievance and Arbitration Management Process

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.

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.

unions-master

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.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Union Built PC and Bargaining Power Announce Strategic Alliance to Empower Labor Unions

Press Contact:

Pete Marchese
Union Built PC Inc.
877-728-6466
pete.marchese@unionbuiltpc.com
www.unionbuiltpc.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Technology, Labor and Unions:

Union Built PC and Bargaining Power Announce Strategic Alliance to Empower Labor Unions

Agreement will empower Labor Unions with Digital Tools for Projecting Costs at Collective Bargaining & Real Time Grievance & Arbitration Tracking

NEW YORK, NY (PHANTOM POWER MARKETING) OCTOBER 18, 2016 – Union Built PC Inc. and Bargaining Power Inc. have entered into a Strategic Alliance Agreement with a goal of providing the Labor Industry the necessary tools to effectively represent their membership by Projecting Costs at Collective Bargaining and enabling Real-Time Grievance and Arbitration Tracking.

Union Built PC Inc. and Bargaining Power Inc. are the leading experts in Projecting Costs at collective bargaining and Grievance and Arbitration Tracking Labor Software. In combining the skill-sets of their respective teams and product offerings, we will enhance Labor’s ability at the bargaining table.

This partnership also provides an opportunity for Union Built PC Inc. and Bargaining Power Inc. to work collaboratively on product development, marketing and software sales.

“We at Union Built PC Inc. are constantly searching for software that will help Labor Excel. Bargaining Power Software is an extremely powerful Tool that will aid unions in analyzing costs and effectively representing their membership,” says Pete Marchese Director of Operations of Union Built PC Inc.

Bargaining Power Inc. has developed Bargaining Power® Software, which saves Labor Unions time and money as they conduct all of their cost analyses, whether for collective bargaining or arbitrations. First developed by a Labor Negotiator over 20 years ago, the software is continually enhanced by the experience and expertise of hundreds of customers, including the UFCW International and IBT, IAFF, IUOE and UFCW locals.

Bargaining Power is a unique product that gives labor a software solution that provides enhanced insight and is faster and easier to use than any spreadsheet model. It instantly allows unlimited proposals to change compensation, benefit, time off-allowances and work rules. Also, it automatically takes into account turnover rates and changing lengths of service.

“With Bargaining Power, unions can be confident they’re capturing the true costs of potential settlements. They can instantly compare all scenarios under consideration assuring they’re making the best possible decisions at the table,” says Betsy Cagan, President and founder of Bargaining Power Inc.

Union Built PC Inc. developed their Grievance Manager® Software in 2006, enabling the Labor Industry to track their Grievances, Arbitrations and related documents in Real Time.

As an immediate result of this alliance, Union Built PC will resell Bargaining Power and integrate it into our present suite of Software to automate Labor’s everyday tasks.

For more information about how Bargaining Power can help Labor Unions and International Organizations bargain and represent their membership more effectively, contact Pete Marchese at 877-728-6466 or pete.marchese@unionbuiltpc.com.

# # #
 

For more information:

About Bargaining Power Inc.
Betsy Cagan founded Bargaining Power Inc. in 1991 to develop the software she wished she had when she was a labor negotiator for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York and Stop & Shop in Boston. Responsible for all economic analysis in both positions, she built complex spreadsheet models, but knew only compiled software could answer all her questions. Betsy is particularly interested in working with unions. She holds a BA in English Literature from Connecticut College and an MBA from Columbia University

Bargaining Power Website
Download the Bargaining Power Brochure

 
About Union Built PC Inc.
Union Built PC Inc. has been serving the IT needs of Labor since 2001. Union Built PC’s mission is to “organize” Labor and help them “excel in everything they do.” Union Built PC believes their success is based on products and services that have been developed by Union Members and customized to meet the specific needs of their Labor Union Clients. That’s why every member of the Union Built PC team is a Union Member. Currently, UBPC is organized by CWA Local 1101

Union Built PC Website
Download the Grievance Manager Brochure
View the Grievance Manager Demo Video
Union Built PC on Facebook
Union Built PC on Twitter
Union Built PC on LinkedIn
Pete Marchese on LinkedIn

Learn the Common Topics in Most Union Contracts

Every union contract is different. Workers decide how issues are addressed and negotiated with the company. Union members decide what makes sense for the them. Contracts are also called Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) or Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs). Contracts are negotiated for a period of time, usually between 1 and 6 years.

Negotiator’s Advantage: Comprehensive Software to Manage the Collective Bargaining Process

Common topics in most union contracts include:

Just Cause (protection against unfair discipline or firing) is one of the most important protections workers get from a union – protection against unfair discipline or firing. It says that you cannot be fired or disciplined without “just cause.” It means that a boss has to prove that there was a good reason to fire or discipline you.

Seniority sets how decisions are made when more than one worker wants a shift or job assignment, wants to work overtime (or when no one wants to work overtime), etc. For example, the contract may state that if there are layoffs, the newest workers must be laid off first. Different contracts have different types of seniority clauses.

Pay Rates and Raises The contract will set rates of pay for all workers, including when workers get paid a “premium,” for overtime, shift and weekend differential, working in a higher classification, or being on-call. Workers often negotiate for a minimum number of hours of work, so they can’t just be sent home with no pay if there’s no work. Workers know when and how much raises will be during the contract.

Time Off and Benefits includes what holidays and how many sick and vacation days workers get — and fair rules for taking them. It can also set an employers’ payments to health and welfare and pension funds. Benefit levels may be set by the amount of time you have on the job.

Bargaining Power Inc. has developed Bargaining Power® Software, which saves Labor Unions time and money as they conduct all of their cost analyses.

Grievance Procedures makes sure that workers get a fair hearing by setting how problems will be worked out. Usually, grievances are filed when the boss has broken a contract rule, violated your rights under the law, ignored a company rule or procedure, or changed a past practice (what has always been done, if it’s a bad change or not done fairly for everyone). Grievances can also be filed for any unfair situation that management has the power to correct, even if there is no contact language, law, or company procedure. When a grievance or discipline cannot be worked out, most contracts say that an independent arbitrator (like a judge) will make a decision which both sides have to live with.

It is important to file grievances quickly. The contract will have timelines which must be followed. Usually the deadline is a certain number of days from when the problem happened – or when you (or the union) knew about it.

grievance-manager-union

Grievance Manager: Custom Grievance and Arbitration Software to Manage the Grievance Process Quickly and Efficiently

Fair rules for many situations are negotiated so that scheduling, job bidding, vacation bidding, and many other issues are done fairly. Common examples include if a worker bids into a new job, a rule that says that he can go back to his old job if it doesn’t work out; a fair system for scheduling, including posting the schedule in advance; how vacations are scheduled; “reporting pay” – a minimum number of hours you must be paid if you are called in to work; posting of empty jobs so that interested workers can bid for them; making sure workers have the equipment and supplies to do their jobs well and safely.

Legal Protections which are also law. These protections are included in the contract because it is often easier and faster to enforce the rights under the union contract.

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The Steps of a Union Campaign

Do you and your co-workers want change? Do you believe unionizing will be to your benefit? Well, each work place is a bit different, but when workers want to build a union, there are common basic steps to take.

First it is helpful to have a true understanding of how organizing can benefit you and your co-workers.

Understanding the Benefits of Union Membership

Union members – workers like you — benefit from the union’s collective bargaining power to negotiate with employers on their behalf. This basic right gives you as a union member more power than if you tried to negotiate as an individual. There is strength in numbers.

  • Union employees make an average of 30% more than non-union workers
  • 92% of union workers have job-related health coverage versus 68% of non-union workers
  • Union workers are more likely to have guaranteed pensions than non-union employees.

Unions help protect employees from unjust dismissal through collective bargaining agreements. Because of this, most union employees cannot be fired without “just cause.” This is unlike many nonunion workers who are considered “at-will” employees and can be fired at any time for almost any reason.

Union members also benefit from having the collective power to go on strike. A strike is when a group of workers stops working either in protest of labor conditions or as a bargaining tool during labor/management negotiations.

benefits-of-joiing-a-union

Second, do a bit of homework…

  • learn about building a union
  • understand the differences unions can make at work
  • find support among all work areas and kinds of workers

Third, deep dive into the steps of a Union Campaign!

1. Do workers want a change?
Workers talk among themselves to see if most people have issues that they want to change. The first step to building a union is figuring out if your co-workers want a union. Typically, a small group of workers who trust each other start to talk about what’s going on at work, what they can do to build a union, and what union they want to represent them. Workers need to be discreet – it’s too early for the boss to find out that workers are starting to think about getting union protection and a voice.

2. Gather information about your work place.
It’s important to map out all of the departments and where people work. Posted lists of workers and schedules will disappear when the company knows about the campaign, so collect them now. Home addresses are especially important, so workers can talk freely away from work.

3. Call a union, or a couple, to find one that you feel comfortable with.
Ask union members in your community if their union would be a good fit. Don’t worry too much about the name of the union – some unions represent workers who are in many different jobs. You can also decide to build a union that is “independent” – not affiliated with any national union (although it is often more difficult when workers don’t have support and resources from a national union).

4. Find the leaders who workers respect.
The union committee has to represent all of the workers (from each department, shift, job, and group) to be able to keep workers together during the campaign.

5. Learn how having a union can help with your problems.
Workers also need to know what to expect from the company during the union campaign.

6. Sign union cards when workers have enough information about the union and are ready for everything the company will do to try to stop them.
To win a union campaign, workers need to be strong and unified, with a big majority supporting the union. Signing a union authorization card means the worker wants the union to represent him or her to bargain with the company. The labor board will run an election when 30% of workers sign cards, but usually workers have a large majority before they ask for an election.

7. Workers show that they want a union.
A company can agree to have a neutral person from the community review the cards to see if a majority of workers want the union (“card check”). More often, the cards are used to have the National Labor Relations Board (or other agency) run a secret ballot election. The workers and the company have to agree on which workers will be able to vote and be represented by the union. Sometimes the company delays the election with labor board hearings. Once the bargaining unit (who is eligible to be represented) is decided, the labor board sets the date for the election, usually a month later.

8. The company tries to stop the workers from having a voice.
Companies want to keep all the power and don’t want to have to deal with workers who have protections, rights, and a voice. The time before a union election can be unpleasant – but it doesn’t last forever. Workers can overcome the company’s tricks if they stick together and keep talking among themselves.

9. Election day!
The labor boards runs the election and makes sure that the rules are followed. Workers vote in secret. The ballots are counted in front of the workers and company as soon as the election is over.

10. Negotiations.
This was what the whole campaign was about – for workers and union representatives to be able to sit down with the boss and negotiate for fair rules and better working conditions. Workers decide what to negotiate for. For the union to be strong, the company must see that workers support the negotiations. Workers vote to approve the contract before it becomes final. Sometimes, workers ask community members, like religious leaders, to be observers during contract negotiations.

11. Protecting your rights on the job.
After there is a contract, workers have to make sure that the rules are followed. Active union members know that they have to be involved for their union to work.

Looking to organize on the job? What challenges have you faced? What successes can you share that may help others? Sound of on the Union Built PC on Facebook Page, or on our Twitter and LinkedIn feeds and do’t forget to subscribe to the Union Built PC monthly email newsletter for Union News delivered straight to your inbox.