A grievance is not always easy to identify. Your job as a steward will become easier as you learn to sort through complaints and figure out which problems require a grievance and which problems merely require a sympathetic ear.
Sometimes a worker will bring you a complaint that is clearly a violation of the contract or some other basic right. Other times, a thorough investigation will be required to see if a complaint actually qualifies as an official grievance. Still other times, an employee may come to you with a legitimate gripe, but you’ll know immediately that there is no contractual basis for filing a grievance. And sometimes you will be confronted by employees who simply need some serious counseling for personal problems.
The first rule of grievance resolution is to always try to settle them rather than pass them up the ladder. Your power as a steward resides in your ability to solve problems and fix contract violations.
Some of the major categories of grievances are:
- Violation of the contract. These may be violations of wages, hours, working conditions, vacations, holidays or benefits.
- Violation of past practice. A practice that has been in place for a long time and is explicitly accepted by both the union and management can sometimes be defended in the grievance procedure if management decides to change the practice–even if it is not spelled out in the labor agreement.
- Violation of fair treatment. If management discriminates on the basis of race, sex, nationality, religion, or union activity, the union can file a grievance based on unfair treatment.
- Violation of federal, state or local law. Laws written to protect workers are considered part of the labor agreement. A violation of such a law can be the basis for a grievance. Such laws include the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
- Violation of management rules. If management breaks its own policies, it may be the basis for a grievance.