Grievances By William Ossmer General Principles What Is a Grievance? Article 24, Section 2 of the National Agreement defines grievance this way: 1. By an employee(s) concerning any matter relating to the employment of the employee; 2. By the Union concerning any matter relating to the employment any employee; or 3. By any employee(s), the Union, or the Administration concerning: a. The I effect or interpretation, or a claim of breach, of a collective bargaining agreement; or b. Any claimed violation, misinterpretation or misapplication of any law, rule or regulation affecting conditions of employment. Exclusions from the Grievance Process The 2005 contract specifically excludes the following from the grievance process 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. any claimed violation of 5 U.S.C. 73 relating to prohibited political activities; retirement, life insurance or health insurance; a suspension or removal under 5 U.S.C. 7532 relating to national security; any examination, certification, or appointment; the classification of any position which does not result in the reduction in grade or pay of an employee; 6. non-selection for non bargaining unit positions; or 7. non-selection for bargaining unit employees from amongst properly rated and ranked candidates with the exception that employees may file grievances alleging unlawful discrimination as defined by Title VII. However, employees may file a grievance for nonselection from the exercise of a priority consideration. Employees may also file either a grievance or unfair labor practice, but not both, alleging anti-union animus. How Does the Grievance Process Work? A grievance can be initiated by a bargaining unit employee, the Union or the Administration. An employee who files a grievance can elect to be self-represented or choose to be represented by a designee of the Union. If an employee elects Union Representation and the Union agrees to represent that employee, all communications regarding the grievance must be made through the designated Union Representative. Please note that the Union decides whether or not to represent an employee based on the facts of the case. The Union also designates who the Union Representative will be for each case. There are three steps to the grievance process unless one is dealing with a Union management grievance. A Union initiated grievance has only one step. If a grievance is not resolved through the grievance process, arbitration must be considered. It is important to determine the proper management official to whom the grievance should be submitted. The chart in Article 24, Section 9, of the National Agreement shows who the proper official is. A grievance concerning a continuing practice or condition may be presented at any time. An employee grievance concerning a particular act or occurrence must be filed within 15 working days of the action or of date the employee became aware of it. An employee who files a grievance alleging discrimination may first discuss the allegation with an EEO counselor. This discussion must take place no longer than 45 calendar days after the alleged event or the date the employee became aware of the event. Once the EEO investigation is complete, the employee has 15 working days from the date of the EEO counselor's decision to file a grievance. If an employee alleging discrimination chooses not to use the EEO counseling procedure, any grievance on this issue must be filed within 45 days of the event that gave rise to the allegation or after the date the employee became aware of the event. The standard form used to file grievances in SSA is form SSA-2048. While it is not mandated that this form be used to file a grievance, it is preferred. However, it is essential that a grievance be submitted in writing. A grievance will not considered as having been filed based upon an oral statement only. It is, therefore, essential that the grievance be reduced to writing and timely submitted to the appropriate management official. The grievance should also indicate whether or not an oral presentation of the grievance is being Escalating the Grievance If management fails to meet any of the time requirements specified in the Contract the grievance can be escalated to the next step of the grievance process per Section 12, Article 24 of the National Contract. But carefully weigh the benefit of obtaining a decision from the appropriate management official versus the benefit of escalating a grievance in such a situation. If management does not give the grievant an opportunity to make an oral presentation (if requested) within the required time or does not issue a decision in writing within the required time, the grievance can be escalated to the next level upon the request of the grievant. Conversely, if the grievant fails to escalate a grievance timely, the grievance is terminated. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that the grievant or representative timely escalate grievances if a fully favorable decision is not received. If management does not make a decision on a grievance and the grievant does not escalate the grievance, it remains open indefinitely per Section 12C of the National Contract. All deadlines can be extended by mutual consent. If you are requesting an extension of a timeframe, be sure to do so in writing. If management agrees to an extension, be sure this is in writing also. Article 24, Section 5 of the Contract requires management to settle grievances promptly. However, management suffers no penalty for failing to do so. If they continually fail to process grievances according to the timeframes stipulated in the National Contract, the Union has the option to file a grievance on their violation of this portion of the Contract. Completion of the Grievance Form SSA-2048 This form is two sided. The reverse side is for the disposition of the grievance. This is where management normally responds in writing to the grievance. This part of the form is also used by the grievant to request that the grievance proceed to the next step. When completing an SSA-2048 two copies of the front side should be made: one for the Union; the second copy is the employee's copy. Please bear in mind that a grievance is submitted in writing and on time to the proper management official is valid even if form SSA-2048 is not used. The actual completion of SSA-2048 is self-explanatory. The "Description of Grievance" should include a brief synopsis of the issues involved. If a breach of the Contract is involved, cite the specific sections violated. If there has been a violation or misapplication of any law, rule or regulation, then cite the applicable law, rule or regulation. This will strengthen your position and clearly communicate your position to management. However, since a grievance can be any complaint concerning any matter relating to the employment of the employee, there does not have to be a contractual or statutory violation before a legitimate grievance can be filed. It is best to be succinct and factual in describing the grievance. If an oral presentation has been requested, many of the relevant details surrounding a particular grievance can be filled in at that time. Provide sufficient information to show clearly how the specific violation occurred, but do not give so much that you confuse the important issues. The section entitled "Relief Sought" is extremely important. This is the portion of the form in which the grievant informs management what is being sought to resolve the issue. Remember: you are not likely to get anything you do not ask for. It is usually best to ask for more than you are willing to settle for. However, be sure that the relief sought is both rational and within the realm of possibility. When management provides the "relief sought" stated in the grievance, the grievance is then considered fully resolved. Therefore, clearly specify all the conditions needed to satisfy the grievant. You can always accept less than what you requested but management will rarely concede more. The 2005 contract requires that, before the last step of the grievance process, the written grievance must: clearly and specifically describe the matter(s) being grieved, including the date/place of the occurrence and the individuals involved. The written grievance must also identify the article(s), section(s) and provisions(s) of the agreement that are involved, explain the alleged violation and state the requested relief. Grievances are being denied based solely on the lack of this information Union Management Grievances Article 24, Section 10 of the National Contract allows the Union to initiate a grievance on its own. Union--Management grievances cannot be initiated by an employee. A Union-initiated grievance filed at the local level will be submitted to the appropriate manager or designee. The grievance must be submitted within 25 working days of the disputed action or of the date the Union became aware of the action unless the grievance concerns a continuing practice. A Union management grievance concerning a continuing practice can be submitted at any time. This is a one-step grievance process. If the grievance is not resolved at this -level, the Union can invoke arbitration within 30 working days after receipt of the final decision. This type of grievance is not escalated to a higher internal agency component after the first stage. If the agency's decision is unfavorable, the only option is to invoke arbitration. Steps to Take Prior To Filing a Grievance 1. Talk to the grievant and all other involved parties. Get the facts and ask questions. Don't forget the four W's "Who?", "What", “ When?'', and "Where?" Obtain statements from all material witnesses. 2. Obtain any and all documentation dealing with the issue in question. 3. Obtain, review and analyze any relevant portions of the contract, law, agency regulations, MOU's, POMS, MSOM, etc. 4. Consider all the options available to resolve the issue such as filing unfair labor practice charges or appealing to the EEOC, or Merit Systems Protection Board. Be sure to remember that filing a charge in one of these venues prohibits you from filing the charge in another venue. 5. Review the SF-7B file and copy the complete file if relevant. 6. Request any information needed per 5 USC 7114(b)(4). This request should be in writing and should not be included as part of the grievance. The value of this cannot be overestimated, as it is the Union's opportunity to obtain information needed to vigorously pursue its case. Many times this information will also enable you to determine the agency's rationale for taking a particular action. 7. Evaluate your case: Review the pros and cons of your case realistically and objectively. Order your thoughts List your main issues and arguments. Discuss the case with other Union Officials to obtain their perspective and feedback. The knowledge and experience of our own officials is a valuable resource that should not be overlooked. Oral Presentations The value of an oral presentation cannot be overestimated. However, there may be times when you feel the value of such a presentation is limited because you have already fully discussed the issues with the management official involved at a particular level of the grievance process. An oral presentation gives both parties an opportunity to clarify the issues and to determine areas of agreement and disagreement. Dialogue may lead the parties to find a common ground resulting in a resolution of the issues Even when making an oral presentation, it is essential that you provide your arguments to management in writing. This written presentation is important, as it will reinforce your arguments and will refresh management's memory when they are making a decision. This is especially important since management may take many days or weeks after your oral presentation before actually making a decision on your grievance. Management may have forgotten the main points of your oral presentation by that time. To force them to focus on you instead of the written document, wait until you until after you have completed your oral presentation before giving them your written arguments. After your oral presentation, before closing your presentation, give the grievant an opportunity to add any relevant comments or ask additional questions. Before your oral presentation it is helpful to familiarize grievant with the process, the sequence of events, and what you expect of them during this presentation. Prepare a written outline of your key speaking points in advance, to assist in your presentation. This will insure that you present your arguments logically and clearly. It will also insure that you do not forget to discuss any key points. Processing a grievance requires time, patience and perseverance. Do not become discouraged if management denies your grievance. Do not expect the decision-maker another management official-to be unbiased, objective, and fair. Normally, you will find the opposite. Present your grievance with this in mind. Remember, there are normally three steps to the grievance process . As a last resort, arbitration can be invoked. Carefully review management's response to your grievance. It may provide you with clues to the reasoning behind their decision. You can then address these issues as you escalate your grievance. If arbitration is eventually invoked, management's prior responses should provide clues as to how they will attempt to defend their actions and decisions. This will enable the Union to better prepare for arbitration by identifying the relevant and important issues in dispute. This allows the Union to avoid spending precious time and energy arguing issues that are not in dispute and to focus only on those issues that are germane to the grievance. Never make promises you may not be able to keep. Since the results of a grievance cannot be predicted, it would be foolish to try to do so. Honestly appraise each situation. Avoid exaggerated claims and promises as not to unrealistically raise the hopes of the grievant. If management makes a good faith offer to resolve the grievance, consider it and either accept or reject it after discussing it with the concerned employees. It may in everyone's best interests to accept a settlement offer even if it is less than the relief sought. In making such a decision, consider factors such as cost, benefit to the employees, time, importance of issues, etc. The Grievance Process What is a Grievance A contract violation, including violation of past practices. Any dispute between an employee or the union and management in an area where management has responsibility. Any violation or misapplication of any law or regulation affecting employment. Disciplinary actions. 5 USC 7121 spells out the authority for grievance procedures. Where a collective bargaining agreement exists all covered employees must use the negotiated grievance procedure, as the exclusive grievance procedure Who may file a grievance Individuals have the right to process their own grievance. However they may not select their representative. An employee may not insist on using an attorney. It is the right of the Union to designate the employee's representative if the employee requests a representative. The Union has a right to be present during the presentation of any grievance under the negotiated grievance procedure. What is the purpose of the grievance and appeal procedures To enforce compliance with The negotiated agreement, including o Past practices Memorandum of Agreements/ Understandings Previous grievance settlements o Laws, and government wide rules and regulations o Agency rules and regulations Provide a system for quickly settling disputes To solve problems Protect employee rights and fight management injustices against them To put the united strength and skill of AFGE behind every member who has a legitimate grievance To give federal employees a voice in setting conditions of employment Good grievance handling Settle grievance based on its merit only. Settle at lowest possible step. Builds member confidence in the Union and demonstrates the Union is a problem solver, not creator. Avoid delays. Delays worry the worker and erode confidence. Define authority and responsibility clearly. Keep member informed. Avoid favoritism; apply the provisions of the contract consistently for all. Never make promises. Bring grievant to all possible meetings. Keep file organized, up to date at the I Union office with posted meeting schedule What is appealable outside the grievance procedure Certain matters may either be appealed through the grievance procedure, or other statutory appeal process, but not both. If appealed through the statutory appeal the Union is no longer the exclusive representative and an employee may select a representative of their own choice. Some of these statutory appeals are: Appeals to Merit System Protection Board for; 1) Removals from service; 2) 2) Suspensions for more than 14 days; 3) 3) Reduction in grade or pay; 4) 4) Furloughs of less than 30 days. The above 4 items are called Adverse Actions Appeals to Equal Employment Opportunity Council (29 CFR Part 1614) for violations of; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 USC Section 20OOe-16 o Discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or retaliation for civil rights activities. o The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1963, 29 USC Section 631 o The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 20 USC Section 791 Discrimination prohibited against qualified handicapped individuals and requires reasonable accommodation where appropriate. o The Equal Pay Act of 1966, 29 USC Section 206 Prohibits paying of males and females different wages for equal work. Whistleblowing o An individual Right of Action 5 USC 1221 to the Office of Special Council and in 5 USC 2302 to the MSPB. Investigation When investigating a possible grievance, a steward must know how to handle the interview process. Here are some tips: RELAX, make yourself and the employee comfortable. LISTEN to the employee; let them get the whole story out. ASK questions to ensure the employee presents facts and circumstances accurately. You must understand the situation clearly. WATCH for the employee's emotion, be aware of it and do not let it override the facts. Do not process a gripe as a grievance. RECORD -the information Write brief notes of the facts given to-you. TEST complaint against the contract, past practice, law, rules or regulations. DISTINGUISH between 1. Problems with contract, law, rule, or agency regulation (grievance) 2. Problems outside the shop or office (gripe) 3. Complaint or misunderstanding with the Local (not a grievance) 4. Argument between employees or members (gripe or grievance). DETERMINE if there is a grievance. Was there a violation of: 1. The Contract, check it first, it provides greatest coverage 2. The Law, check for specific type of violation 3. An area where management has responsibility 4. Government wide regulations (Code of Federal Regulations, CFR) 5. Agency regulations 6. Past Practice 7. Has the employee been treated fairly. If yes go to the next step. If no, tell employee NO! Confer with Chief Steward and then explain WHY NOT to the employee. Do not arbitrarily dismiss the employee's complaint without first investigating. Who, What, When, Where, Why, Witnesses Investigation by definition means a systematic inquiry. What we are going to try to give to you is a process that will allow you to professionally compile the information needed to win grievances. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Who, refers to clearly identifying the employee, this includes: Employees name; Pay or Badge number; Office, shop or work location; Classification or position number; Identification of the Supervisor or Manager responsible, When, refers to time elements. Outline the dates of all events, including: 1. The time and date grievance occurred 2. The date grievance was written 3. The date grievance was submitted to the immediate supervisor (first step) 4. The date the immediate supervisor responded with a decision Where, refers to the exact location the grievance took place, i.e. department, shop machine, etc. What refers to 1. The action that caused the grievance 2. The corrective action desired. This should request everything needed to correct the situation since an arbitrator will base an award on this original request. Use of the terms "make the employee whole" and "or additional remedy as deemed appropriate by an arbitrator are good inclusive Imam to cover unknowns. Why refers to why the complaint is considered a grievance. Witnesses, refers to who may have information or knowledge concerning what happened Interpreting Information Interpreting information gathered for a grievance is more simply put as measuring the information. While distance can be measured in inches, millimeters, feet, yards, meters, kilometers and miles, and time can be measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, etc., other information can be measured as it relates to comparing with similar information or circumstances. Some useful measures of information for grievance purposes include: Years of service: Measured in years, months and days Performance records: Measured as needing improvement, fully successful, exceeds successful and outstanding, or other similar terminology depending on the particular agency you work for and your Local contract Medical records Reported injuries, lost work hours Absenteeisim: Number of days not at work Tardiness Number of times late, number of hours lost from work Production Amount produced Other Jobs Held Job titles, period of time on each job Edycation and training Years in school, training, programs attended, courses taken, degrees or certificates held Qulaity of work Accuracy and quality, annual performance -reviews. Disciplinary Record Previous levels of discipline administered, i.e., oral reprimand, suspensions, etc. Previous levels of discipline administered, i.e., oral admonishment, written reprimand, suspensions, etc. Note: Why things happen is more important than what happened. Clarifying Information To put the information gathered into the proper perspective, to get a true measurement, it must be compared with other similar information of other employees in the same working environment. A steward needs to understand the underlying reasons for the appearance of information. A couple of examples: A worker who has been absent seven days in the past year has more absences than a worker who has only missed five days dues. Any reasonable person would agree that seven is more than five The steward investigating why the absences occurred discovers that the worker who missed seven days was hospitalized for a major surgery and all seven days were in a single occurrence, while the employee who has missed only five days was absent each day before the beginning of a holiday weekend. The worker missing seven days has a better excuse than the worker missing five. A worker's record of production, when compared to other employees in a unit looks very bad. It is nearly 50% less than the next lowest producing employee. On the surface this looks very bad. The steward investigating why discovers that the shop foreman has consistently ordered this worker to do non-productive work during the regular hours of operation. When comparing the actual time spent producing the measured work, the employee's efficiency of production is on par with the other employees. Unclear Information Stewards need to be aware of terms that are frequently used to describe a person or behavior, but which have little use in measuring information. We call these terms arbitrary or subjective because the meaning is subject to individual judgement or bias. Some of these include: Ability Attitude Personality Character Dependability Willingness Although these terms and others can be defined in a measurable way, they are often misapplied. For example: "Ability" can be defined in a measurable manner through production records, quality of work (record of rework), and possibly attendance and medical records. However the word "ability" alone has very little meaning. A supervisor might say, "I can tell that one worker has more ability than another." If it cannot be measured it is nothing more than opinion- maybe accurate, maybe not. Stewards must insist that supervisors use measurable information when dealing with employees. For example: A supervisor wants to discipline an employee for marginal work performance and alleges that the employee has a "bad attitude" toward the work and is not a "team player" with the other employees. The steward should be asking the supervisor, "Why do you say the worker has a bad attitude? What happened?" Did the supervisor contribute to the situation? Did this interfere with the employees work production? The emphasis on FACTS during the grievance investigation helps cut through the arbitrary and subjective accusations made against workers that otherwise may be accepted without challenge. One of the great contributions a union makes to a workers life is to free them from punishment based on a supervisor's unproven and subjective opinion, Sources of Information People: The grievant Co-workers Witnesses to the grievance Union stewards and officers who can supply ideas about similar past grievances The direct Supervisor (boss) Other management officials Always speak to management before you file or present a grievance. Get their views on information so you have a clear idea of the agency's reasoning. This will also help clarify the information received from the employee. Agency records: Retention records Production records Absentee records Medical records Agency regulations Grievant personnel file Disciplinary records Under the law, 5 USC 7114(b)(4), the Union has the right to any information kept by the Agency in the regular course of business. If they have it, and you tell them you need it, as it is relevant to your case, they must provide it. There are a number of FLRA cases which define this right of the Union. Union Records: Union contract Contract negotiation file Closed grievance file IRAC Writing Grievances, Written Argument The simplest form of written argument follows the format of introduction, regulatory background, argument, and conclusion. This is known as an IRAC format. Introduction. This begins with introduction of the six W's of our investigation. Who was the employee, what happened, where did it occur, when, what witnesses were present? Outline only facts, and do not argue any points. Regulatory Background. In this portion of your grievance, identify what contract provisions, past practice standards, agency regulations, or laws govern the condition or circumstances of the grievance. Be specific about cites, identify by page number, article, and section number of a contract. If referencing a statute, specifically identify the law and which portion is alleged to be a violation. Outline this information objectively. Do no go into arguments, interpretation, or assert that management wasn't complying with a contract or statute. It's critical that this portion of your document is laid out without bias. If argument is attempted prior to full exposure of regulations and contract language, your reader will dismiss your evidence. Don't allow them this luxury. Regulatory background is going to lay the foundation for everything that occurs afterwards. Argument. Finally it's your turn. Here is where you connect the information in the introduction to the regulatory provisions. Make the allegations over how the condition was created by management that caused the employee to suffer the condition being grieved. For example, "The supervisor failed to comply with Art. 21, Sec. 3 and the provisions of Just Cause when the employee was suspended without a full and impartial investigation." It's important that the bridge is created between the facts and circumstances to violations of regulations, laws, contract provisions and past practices. This bridge is your argument and will make or break your case. Conclusion. Finally, summarize the harm to the employee based on your argument. Demonstrate how the supervisor's actions hurt the employee, and carefully frame the proposed remedy for the grievance. The remedy should restore status quo and reverse any harm to the employee, or group of employees. For example, "The Union seeks a remedy of payment of overtime to the employee because the supervisor failed to comply with the contract. The supervisor failed to contact the most qualified person for overtime as required by the contract. The supervisor failed to comply with agency regulation, which requires a minimum of two employees to perform the work. Grievance Handling To win a grievance, the Steward must know how to handle the grievance. Here are five additional tips: 1. Listen to the problem of the bargaining unit member and ask questions to ensure the unit member presents the facts and circumstances accurately. You MUST understand the situation clearly. 2. Make sure the complaint is in fact a grievance - not just a gripe. Test the complaint against the Local contract (including past practices) and agency rules and regulations to see if there is a violation involved. The Steward should know the kind of complaints or problems those unit members bring to their union. Some are problems arising within the office or shop. Others are problems arising outside. You can distinguish between: Problems arising under the Local contract and agency rules and regulations; Outside shop and office problems; Complaints or misunderstandings about the Local; Problems or arguments between employees and members. 3. Before writing the grievance, investigate. Double check the facts of the complaint with whatever records are available with people who may be involved. Check as thoroughly as you can, but remember, protect time frames for filing the grievance. 4. Write a simple statement of the situation and conclude with the specific relief sought. 5. Present the grievance to the supervisor in a firm but a polite manner. Determine what management's position is. Argue the grievance and explain the facts of the case. If unable to win at this point, appeal to a higher step of the grievance procedure. Any points that are new or weak should be investigated and defended before elevating the grievance. If you win the grievance, get the settlement in writing and index copies for the Local's files. They will be useful in handling other grievances. and training other stewards. If you lose the grievance, appeal and keep the member of the unit informed of the progress of the case. It is important that a steward distinguish between a complaint and a legitimate grievance. Following the same procedure a good auto mechanic follows in attempting to discover why a car will not run can do this. The mechanic approaches the problem by running through a checklist. Among other things he or she examines: Is the battery dead? Is the gas tank empty? Is the starter switch broken? Are the plugs fouled? Etc. A steward should have a similar checklist to decide whether a grievance exists. The following points should be checked: 1. Is there a violation of the contract? 2. Is there a violation of a law? 3. Does it involve an area in which management can be held responsible? 4. Is there a violation of agency regulations? 5. Is there a Violation of Past Practice? 6. Has the employee been treated fairly? When investigating a grievance, it is important to continue a thorough investigation even if you find a violation. If a plumber were to fix a clogged sink for example, he would not merely clear an obstruction in the sink plumbing, if there were also obstructions in the main drain, or septic tank as well. He must address all of the symptoms to insure a lasting repair. In the same way, a grievance may concern an issue that violates the contract, past practice, agency regulations, federal personnel regulations (FPMs), and Government wide regulations or Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) All of these things must be aired for a full and open exploration of the problem. Contract violation Because most of the rules governing the relations of a worker to his or her job are written in the contract, the steward should look there to see if the employee's complaint is a legitimate grievance. Some grievances are clear-cut violations of the contract and are easy to prove. Grievances concerning the interpretation of a contract are not as easy to decide. For example: suppose the contract reads, "union members will be granted leave without pay for union business." The local union receives an invitation to attend a conference on health and safety legislation. It designates three of its officers to attend, but management turns down their request for leave because the conference is not sponsored by a labor organization. In this situation a legitimate difference of opinion exists regarding the interpretation of the phrase "union business". In this case we would have to argue the Union's intent of the language. What kinds of examples were used at the bargaining table? Who would know that? Were any notes kept of those examples? Are there any management witnesses to those negotiations that would substantiate the Union's interpretation? Is there a past practice that would define the ambiguous language? Violation of a law For example, present legislation provides all civil service employees under GSA 0, and higher graded non-administrative or non-executive personnel, are entitled to time and a half overtime pay unless the individual personally chooses compensatory time off in its place. Other violations of law could include violations of the Privacy Act, Whistleblower Protection Act, and EEO Laws. Merely because the agency says it is short of funds does not give it the right to force an employee to accept compensatory time off, instead of overtime pay, during the week in which overtime is worked. Failure to allow fifteen-minute breaks once every four hours could also be a violation of state laws. Management responsibility Grievances charging a violation in areas where management is responsible most often occur over problems involving working conditions and health and safety issues. For example: there is nothing in the union contract stating that the workplace must be illuminated by a specific number of watts of electricity, or that the room temperature must be keep at a particular level. However, the union will argue that management's responsibility includes the maintenance of proper heat, light, ventilation, etc. and is expected to maintain equipment and machinery in proper condition, and to provide safe vehicles to drive. Violation of agency regulations Where management has established regulations on its own initiative, it cannot legitimately violate them. For example: A grievance would exist if an employee were told to produce a medical certificate after two days sick leave when the regulations specified none was needed unless the leave was for more than three days. (This kind of agency regulation can also be bargained away through past practice or contract negotiations) Violation of past practices Past practices are extensions of the contract. Grievances based on a past practice argument require careful investigation and presentation since the burden of proof is on the union to show that the practice exists. A practice can be defined as a consistent response to recurring situations, over time, which has been recognized explicitly (orally or in writing) or implicitly (management knew the practice was occurring, but did not object). The practice argument can be made best in those cases where the contract is silent or unclear. It is often used in respect to grievances over working conditions, subcontracting and in defining jobs that may affect layoffs. For example: drinking coffee on the job is customary as long as anyone can remember A new supervisor appears on the scene and announces that drinking coffee from now on will take place only during official break periods. In such a case the union would argue that a past practice exists and management has no right to change such a condition, without negotiating it with the union first. PS: be ready to negotiate it! When a complaint becomes a grievance Not all complaints are legitimate grievances. The steward must investigate the worker's story. He or she must check the facts to see whether they are accurate. Then the steward must determine if the worker's rights were violated and must look for the source of the violation. In short, the steward must check the six points listed earlier. If the steward's investigation shows that the worker's complaint is justified, the worker has a legitimate grievance. If after investigation the steward finds the worker misunderstood the contract or misrepresented the facts or the complaint cannot be regarded as a labor-management dispute, the worker's complaint is not a legitimate grievance. Sometimes the steward, even after the investigation, will not know if the worker's complaint is a legitimate grievance or not. Such a case is a borderline grievance. A borderline grievance Sometimes a borderline case will arise where even the best steward will not know if a legitimate grievance exists. For example: a worker draws tools from the tool room during working hours because they are needed to do the assigned job. The contract provides that the worker can do this only "when necessary". The worker is reprimanded because the supervisor maintains that the tools are not necessary for completing the job. It is up to the supervisor to decide what is necessary. Is the worker right to obtain the tools or should permission be obtained first from the supervisor? There is no clear answer in the contract to the problem. Therefore, the steward should believe the employee, and process the complaint as a grievance. The role of the steward is to act as the "defense attorney" for the people represented rather than as an "impartial judge". If in doubt about a given case, the steward should check with the chief steward or grievance committee, but even they may have no clear-cut answers. Here, the steward investigates the accepted practice by other supervisors and employees in other shops and work areas. If legitimate doubt remains, the grievance should be filed with the expectation that the case may become clearer as more information is made available in the higher steps of the grievance procedure. Care must be used when filing all grievances. The Local can lose face with its unit members if gripes turn out to be just gripes and are continuously filed as grievances. The Local will lose strength in its position with management and its members by filing grievances that are unfounded. Unjustified complaint- not a grievance There will also be times when employees who have no legitimate grounds for Previous levels of discipline administered, i.e., oral reprimand, suspensions, etc. Previous levels of discipline administered, i.e., oral admonishment, written reprimands, suspensions, etc. amount of overtime which makes up for the time the employee is short. It is important that the steward carefully explain why the employee has no grievance, so that the complaint is voluntarily withdrawn if possible. If the employee is dissatisfied with the explanation, the steward should point out where, within the union, the complaint can be taken for a higher decision. In some unions the dissatisfied employee will be referred to the chief steward, in some unions to the grievance committee, in others to the executive board, and in some cases to the local union meeting. It is important that the steward is riot arbitrarily dismissing action. There is danger in processing unjustified complaints. Management may lose respect for the steward if it feels that the steward does not have the knowledge or authority to distinguish between a legitimate and a nonexistent complaint. The result may be that management stiffens resistance on a legitimate grievance under the theory that the steward is "too dumb" to know when there is a good case, or management may seek to settle grievances directly with their employees and bypassing the steward. The employees, too, may lose respect for the steward if they think the steward will process everything. The steward may be swamped with unjustified complaints. It will become doubly hard to say "no" at this stage of the game. A steward with a long list of lost grievances to his or her credit will not have the confidence of the employees represented. The result of the steward taking up poor grievances is a reduction in effectiveness as a union representative. Because the Civil Service Reform Act requires that a union holding exclusive recognition must handle grievances for all members of the bargaining unit, every problem brought to them must be processed. The steward has every right to exercise his or her own judgment whether a grievance exists. If the steward feels that the employee has no justified grievance, the steward is under no legal requirement to process it, as long as the steward is right. In these situations, it is necessary to discuss the case with the Chief Steward or Executive Board prior to giving the employee a final answer. No local union can be forced to take a case to arbitration, since it involves the expenditure of funds that the membership may feel is not justified by the nature of the grievance. Sometimes employees have justifiable complaints that are not grievances because they occur in areas where management does not exercise responsibility. For example: a member who has been injured goes to Federal Employees Compensation Office to check on a claim regarding work related injury. The clerk tells the worker to go home and come back tomorrow, since the clerk is quitting early to go fishing. The employee obviously has a complaint, but not against the supervisor, since the claim is handled by a different agency. In other kinds of situations, employees may be dissatisfied because the steward does not handle their complaints or handle them to their satisfaction. Again, this is an area for which management is not responsible, whether these are justified or unjustified complaints. If the steward is doing a poor job, this is a problem for the union to settle internally. Disputes between union members/bargaining unit employees Another complaint, that is not a grievance, often results from disputes between employees. For example: The typewriters of two employees are close to a window. They are constantly arguing over whether it is too hot or cold and are always opening and closing the window. Management states that it is willing to adept any policy on which the combatants agree. Obviously management cannot satisfy both individuals. Intervention by the steward may be necessary, pointing out that if the argument is not settled, one or both of the employees may be disciplined and reversing the action will be difficult for the union. In investigating and presenting grievances, it should be clearly understood by all shop stewards and union officials that in disciplinary actions and grievances the issues and facts are clearest at the first step of the action. The hidden factor in grievance actions and particularly in disciplinary actions, above Step 1, is the human factor. Representatives at levels above Step 1, are not familiar with the supervisor or the employees, so consequently in appealing to Step 2 or 3, they are forced to present the case based only on hard cold facts submitted to them by the representatives at Step 1. By the time your grievance or disciplinary action reaches the arbitration stage, it has become far removed from the level where the problem occurred. Therefore an arbitrator will often turn to issues, facts, and requested remedies presented at Step 1 of the procedures, to decide. When an arbitrator looks at a disciplinary case, he or she must decide: 1. Did management for just cause take the action? 2. Does the punishment fit the offense? A hearing officer or arbitrator does have the right to modify penalties imposed either based on the facts presented or mitigation. Arbitrators assume the position that they have the responsibility to safe guard the employer's right to discipline, and a further responsibility to assure that the penalties imposed is fair and not out of line with the offense.