Basics for Grievance Handling
- Follow closely the procedures outlined in the AFSCME Steward Manual concerning grievance handling, and read carefully the AFSCME Steward magazine.
The time-tested suggestions given in the Steward Manual are an effective guide for any AFSCME steward in the investigation, documentation, preparation and presentation of grievances. Carefully following the Manual, even the inexperienced steward can be an effective grievance representative for his co-workers.
The AFSCME Steward magazine is a constant source of information concerning the latest problems and issues facing stewards throughout the country, and recounts their answers and strategies in dealing with them. It is the "professional journal" of AFSCME stewards, assisting them continually to upgrade their skills, knowledge, and competence.
- Follow and enforce the contract in all provisions regarding grievances.
Time limits which are clearly stated in the contract, as well as the steps involved in the grievance procedure must be followed strictly. If any agreement is made by the parties to alter, extend, or otherwise affect the provisions of the contract, it should be put in writing, and the grievant informed. Although many stewards and union representatives enjoy a casual relationship with the employer regarding meeting time limits of the grievance procedure, this can be risky for both, even if it is advantageous in resolving grievances.
- Always keep the worker informed about the status of his or her grievance.
The grievance representative should always keep a written record of the progress of a grievance, noting dates, contacts, decisions regarding the grievance and reasons for the decisions. A good practice is to ask the grievant to sign or initial the record or grievance form at each significant stage of the process. This practice will insure that the appropriate contact is maintained with the grievant and will confirm the contact in writing.
If the union decides to drop a grievance for lack of merit, or any other reason, the grievant should be notified of this in writing, be informed of the reasons for the decision, and told the procedure for appealing this decision. Some unions use certified mail for this purpose in order to guarantee that the grievant acknowledges receiving the notice. In all cases, documentation of the notice to the grievant should be made.
- Some locals or councils have established an internal appeals process.
The appeals process serves the grievant by providing a forum in which to be heard if she or he challenges a union decision to drop her/his grievance. A grievance committee, a special session of the executive board, a committee on appeals, or any like structure can become a permanent part of the union's grievance procedure. This forum would allow the grievant to present her/his side of the case, at the same time giving the union representative the chance to explain the union's decision, and answer questions about it. This not only enhances the democratic nature of the union, but also creates more trust and good will among members toward their union. The feasibility of such a process is, of course, dependent upon the size and structure of the local or council, in addition to other practical considerations. Of course, at the local level, a grievant may appeal any decision to the body of the membership at the local union membership meeting.
- The agreement with the employer should contain enough flexibility in the grievance process to allow for the union's internal appeals process.
Although the union's internal appeals body can be a vital tool in assuring the grievant of the union's intent to fulfill its duty of fair representation, it can hardly be effective unless time is allowed by the contract agreement for it to function.
Allowing time for this appeals process can be of significant benefit to the employer as well as the union. Not only can the employer avoid the expense of defending many more grievances in arbitration, where decisions often seem to be unpredictable, but it can also more easily avoid very costly involvement in civil suits over unsettled grievances, particularly when a question of liability is raised. The recent US Supreme Court decision, Bowen vs. USPS and APWU is a good example of where the internal appeals process might have benefitted both union and employer.
- The union should always allow a worker the opportunity to submit additional evidence or further arguments in support of his/her grievance at any stage in the grievance procedure.
Affording this opportunity to the grievant demonstrates the willingness of the union to investigate the grievance fully as to its merit. At the same time, by listening to the grievant and considering those aspects of the case which are important to him/her, the union representative can offer the grievant a measure of satisfaction and a feeling of being part of the process. It may also make the investigation process easier and more accurate for the union representative.