Having the right information can make or break your grievance case. If you don’t have your facts straight, management can shoot down your case.
As a steward or a concerned member, you can gather facts and make it harder for management to pick holes in your case.
A thorough investigation can help locate evidence that supports your case, and it can also help you find your case’s weak spots. And, you might even identify inconsistencies with management’s case, or find unexpected contract violations.
Get the Facts: The Six W’s
Whether it’s a contract violation or a discipline case, there are six questions to ask for every grievance:
Who is involved? This might include the member’s full name, employee number, department, job classification, pay rate, shift and seniority date or other relevant information for everyone involved.
When did it occur? Try to identify the specific date, time or shift an incident took place. Or you might need to establish a chronology of events.
Where did it happen? The exact location where the incident occurred can be important, on or off employer premises.
Why is this a grievance? Contract language, work rules, policies or procedures, or laws that were violated.
What happened and what remedy do we want? What does the union and grievant want to resolve the grievance?
Are there any witnesses? Reach out to the individuals who may have seen or heard what took place.
These questions will help you track down all the facts you need to present a solid case.
Interviewing the Grievant
You need to get the full story of what happened from the grievant, especially in disciplinary cases. The best way to do this is to interview the grievant, asking them the Six W’s. Ask the grievant to be as specific as possible.
When you’re dealing with a disciplinary grievance, your questions might make some members suspicious. Assure them that you’re on their side.
Tell them, “If I ask questions management will ask, it’s because I need to know the answers to represent you well.”
You want the whole story, not just the grievant’s side. After they’ve told their story, ask them, “What do you think management will say happened? We need to prepare for their strongest arguments.”
Find out from the grievant if there are any witnesses: other Teamsters, customers, or supervisors.
After you’ve interviewed the grievant, review the facts with them, and the sequence of events. Make sure you’ve got the facts straight.
It’s often a good idea to get management’s side before you’re in a formal meeting. Hearing both sides may give you insight into management’s reasoning and evidence, if any.
Make sure you get the full side of the story from all the supervisors involved. Talk to different supervisors individually, and look for inconsistencies in their stories.
Talk to supervisors early, before they get a chance to get their stories straight.
When you’re handling a disciplinary grievance, management will sometimes try to change their story to dodge.
Don’t let management set up a moving target. Use your investigation to pin them down.
In the grievance hearing on a disciplinary matter, it’s up to management to present their case first. Take careful notes, and when they’re finished talking, ask them, “Is this your entire case?” Don’t let them try to introduce new facts later into the hearing.
Remember, management is supposed to do a thorough investigation and then based on that apply appropriate discipline, so once discipline has been issued, their investigation is done.
The National Labor Relations Act gives the union a broad right to get information from the company to investigate grievances.
There’s a lot of information that Local 96 can request if needed.
For a disciplinary grievance, you should always ask for a copy of the grievant’s personnel file. But you can also ask management to supply, “All documents, reports, and other evidence utilized in making the decision to discipline the grievant.”
For a contractual grievance, we can ask for: “All documents, records, and facts used in determining the company’s position.”