Resolving Workplace Problems

There are two ways stewards can settle workplace problems.  First, stewards can require the company to discuss or bargain over the problem.  Second, stewards can “grieve” the problem under our contract’s grievance procedure.

Discussing Or Bargaining Problems With The Company

Stewards can demand that the company talk about or bargain over workplace problems.  The main federal labor law, or National Labor Relations Act, requires companies to bargain over all matters that affect members’ work life.  The company’s obligation to bargain is broad.  It requires supervisors and managers to discuss problems, even if they do not involve a contract provision.  These matters are sometimes referred to as “gripes.”  Remember, these problems are usually important to the members involved, even if Stewards can’t use our contract to force the company to do what the members want.

Many if not most workplace problems are solved in this way.  Stewards simply approach supervisors or managers, make a case and convince them to do what the member wants.

            Example: If a supervisor denies a junior member’s request to leave early one day to attend his daughter’s wedding because our contract requires the company to schedule by seniority, the supervisor must still discuss this member’s problem.  While the supervisor can refuse to change the schedule, the supervisor must listen to the steward’s attempts to persuade the supervisor even though the steward makes arguments other than that the company violated our contract.  Often, this will be enough to solve the member’s problem.

            The steward or the member could, for example, find a more senior member who’s willing to cover for him on the day of the wedding.  This could convince the supervisor to switch shifts.  On the other hand, because these types of problems are not contract violations, stewards may not be able to convince the company to accommodate the member.  But many members will still appreciate that the stewards made the effort to make a case on their behalf.

If a member insists on pursuing these types of problems, don’t refuse to file a grievance.  Just let the member know that it is unlikely that our Union will be able to force the company to do anything about the member’s problem.  File the grievance and try to resolve the problem by talking or arguing with the appropriate supervisor or manager.

Grievances Or Workplace Problems

When stewards use our contract’s grievance procedure to solve a workplace problem, a “grievance” is filed.  Technically, a grievance is a problem arising out of the interpretation of our contract.

It’s a grievance if the company did something that:

  • violated a contract provision
  • violated a company policy or rule
  • violated a past practice, or
  • treated a member or grievant differently than other members in the same situation or with similar problems.

When determining whether a member’s problem involves an interpretation of our contract, always remember that our contract means what you and our Union says it means.  Dont let the company tell you what our contract means.