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.