Good Records Help the Steward and the Local

Keeping grievance information well organized not only wins cases, it can help win good contracts

Imagine that you have three big, complicated grievance cases to be heard at step three of the procedure. You are walking down the hallway to meet with your local lodge officials, your International representative, the company human resource people, and the grievants.

You have done your research, and you are well prepared. For each case, you have 10 to 25 individual pieces of paper — documents, notes, letters, affidavits from eyewitnesses — which you are carrying in file folders.

Just as you are going in the door to the meeting, you drop all of your folders, mixing all of the papers for all three cases together on the floor. You bend down to pick them up and realize that the only way you can tell which case a document belongs to is to read it.

And suddenly it hits you: Straightening up this mess would be so much easier if each document had an easily readable number in the upper right corner showing which case it belongs to.

Information Doesn't Organize Itself - That's Your Job

In processing a grievance, it is not uncommon to end up with a great big stack of paper work. Letters, information requests, notes from step one and two meetings, witness statements, and grievance forms are just some of the many kinds of documents that will find their way into the grievance process. And the person who must keep track of all that paperwork is you.

It isn't an easy job. To do it right, you'll need to develop a systematic method for tracking this paperwork, or it will overwhelm you. Once you develop a good system, you'll discover that it not only helps you win grievances, but it also provides valuable information for your negotiating committee when they sit down to negotiate the next contract.

Let's Get Down To Basics

  • File folders are your friends. Use a separate folder for each grievance in process. In the folder include the grievance form, the Steward's Fact Sheet, and other supporting documents.

  • Paper clips and staples are also your friends. Fasten together documents that need to stay together. While you're at it, invest in a staple remover. You'll often need to separate stapled documents for one reason or another, and just ripping them apart gets messy.

  • Make copies of notes that you take in a notebook or steno pad so you can put them in the grievance folder. You may want to refer to them when your notebook isn't handy. Don't throw away the notebook, though. It never hurts to have the original on file somewhere.

  • Use a different page in your notebook for each issue. When you go back looking for something in your notes, this added level of organization will help you find it much faster than if you have to read each page in its entirety to know what is there. You might have to provide evidence or give testimony in a case six months to a year later in arbitration, so you'll want to be able to find things in your notes quickly.

    Keeping notes this way also helps you keep the issues separate in your head. When you write down one thing, then turn the page to write down something else, the movement between these two writing actions works like a divider in your brain, separating the two events in your memory. This is one of the devices memory experts use to remember long lists of items.

  • Put a date and time on everything. Be sure to specify a.m. or p.m., or use 24-hour "military" time to avoid confusion. Knowing the time can help jog your memory or someone else's memory regarding a particular conversation or event. In addition, a person's memory of an event will change over time. If you end up with conflicting statements about a particular event, knowing which description came closest after the event can help you determine which one is more accurate.

  • Put a tracking number on every piece of paper associated with a grievance. When you're handling more than one grievance at a time, it is easy to mix the papers from one case with those from another. Numbers will help you keep track of papers that might get lost or misplaced. A group of papers or a single witness statement lying loose at the union office can now be identified and routed back to the steward or file where it belongs.

    If your grievance procedure makes you wait to assign a number, use a working number on the document. Always put the tracking number in the same location on the page (such as the upper right corner) and do it in pencil, so you can easily change it to the "official" file number later.

  • Keep the records in the same order within each folder. Using the same order for each file makes finding documents much easier when you revisit a case six months down the road. For most cases, the date order is important, but you may find another system that works better for you. Either way is fine, but be consistent. On big files, you may need to make an index. This can be just a handwritten page in the front of the file folder telling you what is in it.

    Sample Index
    Grievance 2002-45
    Grievance form
    Stewards Fact Sheet
    Statement from grievant
    Statement from witness #1- 4 pages
    Statement from witness #2- 3 pages
    Memo from supervisor to employees
    Copy of employee's attendance record
    Copy of accident report
    Copy of OSHA 300 log
    Copy of disciplinary write up from HR
    Copy of info request
    Data from company on similar write ups

    Your index is a working document that organizes information and helps ensure your file is complete. Files can get big very fast, and you need to keep track of all documents in the file. The index allows you to double-check to make sure all of the items are in the folder. Making an index will also help you identify any documents you haven't yet put in the file and areas you have not yet investigated.

  • Sticky notes can be used like index tabs to "earmark" items in a file for quick reference. Say you're at step two of the case used in the sample above and you need the grievance form with the supervisor's answer, the memo from the supervisor to the employees, and witness statement number two. Digging through the entire file to find these takes time and can make you appear to be unprepared. A sticky note attached to each of these documents, like an "ear," will help you find these items quickly so you remain in charge.

Find a System That Works For You and Your Local

The suggestions given here can help you come up with your own method. Take suggestions. Learn from others. No single method is foolproof, but people have devised some very helpful systems through their many years of handling grievances.

In the end, whatever system works for you is the best one, but the basic components of the system should be consistent for everyone in your local. For example, if you don't already have one in place, your local should establish a tracking-number system. You don't want to have every steward making up his or her own numbering system. Likewise, that number should appear in the same location on every steward's documents. Systems are not systems unless they are consistent.

Grievances should be given numbers as early in the grievance process as possible. Doing so not only helps you process your grievance, if you ever need to look back at past grievances, you'll be able to keep them separate even if the grievance was solved very early in the process.

Grievances won at the step one and two levels are very important. They can be used as precedents for future grievances, and they might be used in contract negotiations.

You won't always be there. Files that are self-explanatory or which are based on a system everyone uses will be helpful even if you aren't around to answer questions.