Does Your CBA Have a Grievance Procedure?
When I took over as IATSE Local 16’s Business Manager in 1997, I reviewed our Collective Bargaining and Project Agreements (CBAs and PAs). Believe me; this didn’t happen overnight because our Local held hundreds of employer agreements.
My evolving checklist of contract items to look for included “grievance” procedures, a codified process for registering protest over employer contract violations.
Most of the contracts included grievance language, but some “historical” contracts did not. By historical, I mean contracts that were hammered out over handshakes, vestiges of an era gone by where two people who forged a friendship could agree on a few simple items.
Those were the days.
Grievance: Tool in Labor’s Box
Today, every employer is “lawyered up” and seems to have endless resources protecting their interests. The grievance process is a tool in labor’s box to enforce the terms of our contract.
Eighteen years ago when I went to fix the contracts which didn’t include grievance procedures, I met employers who resisted the idea. Without grievance procedures, we sued the employer for breach of contract when a violation occurred. This seemed unnecessarily adversarial and expensive.
Eventually, I persuaded the employer holdouts to include grievance language as they came to understand the value of doing so.
Steps for Filing Grievance
Let’s assume you investigated your member’s complaint (read the previous post: Know Your Employers’ Rights?) and have documented her allegation. You believe her charge against the employer violates the CBA.
First, what is your desired outcome? Discuss this with your member and identify the solution you want.
Second, are you within the time limits for filing a grievance as outlined by your CBA? You don’t want to lose a grievance on a technicality so make sure you follow the contract language.
What if the member comes to you a month after the alleged violation occurred…way past the “expiration date” for filing grievances as defined by your CBA? If the violation has merit, don’t drop it over a technicality. There’s more than one way to catch a rabbit. More on this in a future post.
Third, write your grievance. It will include the documentation you collected in the investigation phase (read Know Your Employers’ Rights?) as well as specific reference to the contract language, which has been violated. Your CBA’s grievance process also should include a time limit for the employer to respond. The shorter, the better — that way, the grievance stays fresh in everyone’s minds. I prefer five to 10 days, but it depends upon your CBA’s language.
Fourth, before you send the grievance, pick up the phone and call the employer. Have an informal discussion regarding your facts and gauge his response. If you don’t reach an understanding, advise him that you will file a formal grievance.
Fifth, it’s OK to e-mail your grievance to speed up the process, but you MUST back up your e-mail with a typewritten letter and send it registered mail with tracking, which provides confirmation that the employer received your letter.
Along the way, you may choose to meet with the employer. Keep the meeting friendly and respectful. If the aggrieved member is present, make sure she understands that you lead the meeting. Hammer out any points of disagreements in advance with her and make a plan to “caucus” privately with your member if an issue comes up where you don’t agree.
It goes without saying, but I will say it again: Keep accurate copies of all meeting notes, letters, e-mails, texts, etc., in a specified file for each grievance. You will need to refer to this information regularly.
Grievances are not cut and dried. Contract language may be vague and subject to interpretation. A business agent will have waived language for a previous work order and the employer will use this as a “precedent” or “custom and practice.”
My advice: don’t be too benevolent with the employer. If you waive language, make sure you put it in writing and make clear that this is a “one-time only” waiver. Secure the employer’s signature to all addenda.
Remember: throughout the grievance process, your first responsibility is to your member. Keep her informed every step of the way.
The grievance process provides an effective way to reach a quick resolution on many misunderstandings. Most employers do not want to invest the time and money in smaller disagreements and prefer to settle.
If the employer chooses to fight the charge, there are remedies for that as well including mediation and arbitration. I’ll discuss those procedures in my next post.
What day-to-day challenges do you and/or your members struggle with?
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to talk more with you about it. Until then, stay strong and united.
Image courtesy of sarchi from maidstone kent, uk