You’ve filed a good grievance—but the work needed to be done to win it has just begun.
How you present your grievance can mean the difference between winning or losing. The timing and kind of grievance meeting you have will depend on your contract. The contract also determines who in management you will be dealing with. But the skills used around presenting grievances are universal.
Whether you’re a steward or a member with a grievance, the following tips will help you prepare to meet with management.
Be prepared before you go into the office with management. Here are some of the things to consider:
- Have you documented your case? You may do this yourself or involve the steward, other members or the business agent, depending on the grievance.
- Have you made an evidence list, including names of witnesses?
- Have you gotten statements in writing from witnesses?
- Have you or the union made a formal information request, in writing?
- Have you gotten management’s side of the story? What evidence do they have? If you were
- management, what would the best argument against the union be?
- What are the weak points, if any, in your case. Don’t wait for management to point them out. Be prepared.
Roadmap for presenting a case
Review the issues, facts and arguments that you think will be most helpful to your case.
Problems. What are the main problems that the grievance is trying to address? In what order will you present these problems?
Facts. Who are your witnesses? What documents do you have? Are there pictures or diagrams that would be helpful?
Chronology. Write out the dates of events, in order, and of documents that relate to the case.
Arguments. Write them out. Put them in the order you will want to present them.
Remedies. Be prepared to discuss remedies that will solve the grievance.
Common problems and surprises
Management will try to trip you up. If you’re representing a member, sometimes stories can change. If you’re being represented by a steward or rep, sometimes weak ones will lose their backbone in the meeting.You have the right to call a caucus so that the member, steward and Union Rep can step outside the office and get on the same page.Anticipate obstacles and use the caucus to stay focused on your arguments.
Changing stories. A witness tells the story as they first told it to you—then adds something or tells another part of the story that you have never heard! What can you do? Call for a caucus. The time out will give you a chance to regroup.
Agreeing with management on certain points—or suddenly accepting an inferior offer to settle the grievance. Stay away from agreeing to anything management says, unless you have caucused and decided what kind of settlement would be acceptable.
The steward or union representative will not stand up to management. In the short-term, ask for a caucus and take them on the side to discuss the problem. Over the long term, you may need to organize to replace ineffective representatives.
Management presents new evidence or claims to have evidence but won’t present it. This is why information requests are so important—we don’t want surprises.
Tips for grievance meetings
1. Set ground rules.
Union ground rules: A good steward or business agent should agree to some ground rules. A common one is: never contradict what another union person says or agree to a management proposal without stopping for a caucus (a private meeting among just the union people).
Ground rules for the meeting: the union has the right to bargain over how the meeting is conducted, where it takes place and other details. This is important if management is trying to gang up on a member or otherwise set the tone for the meeting.
2. Ask questions and get information.
Part of your job in a hearing is to find out what management is up to—and what their arguments are. This is especially important with grievances that may end up at the panel or in arbitration.
3. Get agreements in writing.
You may not do this for every little grievance, but definitely do it with discipline cases and contract interpretation issues. If management refuses to sign-off on an agreement, write your own understanding of the terms and give or send it to them.
4. Take control.
Your goal should be to control the tone, direction and outcome of a grievance meeting. Here are some basic suggestions:
Ask questions. One strategy is to get management talking and keep them talking. Force them to explain actions. Take note of lies or discrepancies.
Take your time. Set the pace. Management likely considers grievance meetings a waste of time. Take the time needed to address everything.
Don’t get angry. Being aggressive and firm is good. But do not let management make you lose control when you don’t want to.
Do get angry. Stewards have the right to go head to head with management and argue aggressively. If the contract is helpful, make management read the contract language out loud or read it to them.
Take notes. Someone should be prepared to take written notes. Initial meetings are often used to find out where management stands, what evidence they have and so on. Write down key management statements. After the meeting take a minute to jot down anything you may have missed. Make a note of the date and time and who was present.
This article was first published in the Teamsters for a Democratic Union website.