Five Steps To Winning Grievances

There's no magic bullet, but carefully following these basic steps can give you a great advantage

1. Listen carefully to the facts from the worker.

Listening is a lot harder than most people realize. It is not a passive act. You will probably need to ask questions to get the facts clear and to get important information that the worker leaves out.

The more information you gather from your initial conversation with the worker, the easier it will be to handle the grievance. Spend enough time to get all the facts before you make any judgments about the problem.

Pay close attention to the facts that apply to the case, not the “back story.” Upset people offer a lot of opinions and inferences. These are not facts, and though they may help you understand why a problem has occurred, they will not help you make your argument.

A statement like “Joe has always had it in for me” is an opinion and usually of no use in a grievance. If you probe the worker, you might learn that, in fact, Joe has been giving other workers preferential treatment, a fact which can be used to win a grievance.

2. Test for a grievance.

You already know the five tests for a grievance. Apply them to the case at hand. You may find it helpful to go through them in order. A grievance is a violation of the contract, the law, company rules, well-established practices, or workers' rights.

A violation of the contract is the most obvious grievance, but often the injury will fall into one of these other categories. Check your facts against all of them. If necessary, discuss the problem with your grievance committee chairman, officer, or other stewards. The grounds for grievances include many grey areas; an experienced eye can be helpful in determining just where the boundaries lie.

Sometimes an action will be grievable on more than one ground. You should base your argument on only one of them. Choose carefully. Comparing the facts against all five grounds for a grievance will help you choose the one most likely to give you a victory.

3. Investigate thoroughly.

Before writing the grievance, double-check the facts with whatever records are available and other persons who might have information. People say misleading things for all sorts of reasons -- because they're confused about exactly what happened or was said, because they misunderstood something, because they don't remember clearly, because they think they can put one over on you or the boss, or for some other reason.

Double-checking, both with the grievant and with other sources, will help you avoid presenting an unwinnable argument. If you base your argument on Joe's claim that he hasn't worked overtime for nearly six months, then learn at the hearing that company records show he worked seven days of overtime two months ago, you not only lose your grievance, you waste your own and other people's time, and you lose credibility.

You owe it to your grievant and your members to check as thoroughly as you can, but you must make sure you don't exceed the time limit for filing a grievance given in your contract.

4. Write the grievance.

Write a simple statement of the situation and conclude with the specific relief you are seeking. Your written grievance should be as simple and clear as you can make it without leaving out any pertinent facts.

Putting a complex situation into a few simple sentences is not easy. Think about what you want to say before you begin writing. Make a list of all the important facts. Not only will this help you put the grievance on paper in a logical, step-by-step fashion, but it can help you see whether you need to get more information to make your point.

Your written grievance should name the grounds for the grievance. If the action violated the contract, quote the actual statement that was violated. When the grounds for the grievance is something other than the contract, it often becomes more difficult to explain them. Be as specific and complete as you can be. Name the law or rule violated, or explain the past practice and tell how often and/or how recently it has been used.

If your contract requires you to use a form provided by the company, be sure you do so. It is disheartening to lose a grievance on a technicality, like failure to file on the proper form or failure to file within the time limits.

5. Present the grievance in a firm but polite manner.

One of the main purposes of a grievance procedure is to defuse the anger and hostility that can surround disagreements between workers and management. Your job is to convey the substance of your fellow worker's injury, not the anger it provoked. When both sides remain calm and respectful, they are in a better position to find a mutually-agreeable remedy.

Determine what management's position is. You can't convince them of the correctness of your position without first knowing where they stand. Learning that management agrees with you on some of your points frees you to spend more time arguing the points on which you disagree.

Argue the case step by step, the same way you wrote it up. If you did a careful job of writing the grievance, your written grievance can be your outline for your presentation.

When making your oral presentation, you will be able to give more details and explanation than you gave in your written grievance. But don't get carried away. Stick closely to the important facts. Adding a lot of irrelevant information makes your argument confusing and hard to follow. You want your argument to be crystal clear and impossible to refute.

Always remember that your goal is to resolve every grievance at the lowest level. That not only means less work for you, but it gives the worker relief much sooner. However, don't be discouraged if you are unable to settle the grievance at this step. Refer it to a higher step for additional consideration.