New York, NY – My 42 years as a union activist, shop steward, staff grievance representative, and elected chapter and local officer has taught me that experience is the best teacher. I would like to offer my experience in problem-solving for members. The new COVID world we are in makes it difficult to contact so many of our co-workers right now. But we can do so by phone, zoom and non-work emails. Hopefully, you have compiled lists for use. In many work sites members are at the job. In the future we will all be back at it.
Showing members, you care about them and their problems is important. Phoning them asking them how they are and what is going on is important. If they bring an issue to you but it is not a real grievance, you can still approach management to see if they agree to assist the member and resolve the matter. While winning is extremely important thing, members always appreciate a sincere, good effort. The fact that you tried your best to help is very important in developing trust and solidarity.
Experiences Winning Over 200 Grievances
I won over 200 grievances, that I still have on file, at either step I or at other stages of the process. You can file grievances for Out of Title work, Reverse Out of Title work (people in titles other than clerical mostly performing clerical tasks), harassment and verbal abuse by managers and professionals, health and safety issues, time and leave issues, and violations by management of their own rules and regulations.
Advocacy for members means you file a grievance, represent them in disciplinary related hearings or do preparation work for high level Labor/ Management meetings. I had to gather and present all the facts for these hearings.
Most of what I did for members involved either advising them or meeting informally with management on issues. Most times I was able to win something for the member or at least work out a compromise that worked for everybody. In those cases, I didn’t have to file an official grievance.
By Any Means Necessary
Grievance writing is the last resort for resolving problems. At times, management gets offended or scared when a grievance is filed and they either do not respond (though they are supposed to meet if requested according to our Clerical Division Con- tract), or they just respond negatively.
If a meeting is held to deal with an issue then it is best to work out the problem and resolve it more quickly. You might win your argument in discussion or a compromise can be worked out satisfactory to the member. The point is to try.
I never filed a grievance without consulting the contract. The smallest error in a written grievance can result in losing. I never went by memory. I would also look back at past grievances I filed, and won, on the same issue and would use that as a guide. I always consulted with the grievance repre- sentatives. This is especially true in the part of the grievance where you ask for a remedy.
I learned the hard way that is not always good to be too specific when asking for resolution. You can lose a grievance and waste time using the wrong terminology. It is better to say “management must correct the situation” when writing a safety grievance rather than writing, “management must put up partitions.” The specifics can be worked out if you win the grievance and force the issue.
The only grievances I filed immediately, despite management’s verbal agreement, were related to pay. The member only receives back pay for out of title wins from 30 days prior to the filing date of the grievance. Whether than meeting for a grievance or not, taking notes is critical. It is good to note direct quotes regarding decisions or something said by the manager that can help the member’s case. Be aware that your notes can be subpoenaed for arbitration or court.
The bottom line is that you have to be profes- sional in dealing with members’ problems. They expect to be represented properly. As you get involved in cases you gain confidence with experience. When you lose a case, you can learn why and apply what you learn to future cases. So, stay safe and get busy!
Ralph Palladino is a retired 42-year veteran union leader from Clerical Administrative Local 1549 DC 37 AFSCME in New York City. For 21 years he served as Local 1549 2ndVice President overseeing Political Action/Advocacy, Shop Steward Training, and Internal Organizing. He played a key role in organizing Metro Plus HMO workers into Local 1549.
He is now a member of the DC37 AFSCME Retirees Association and has published articles in various publications including the New York Daily News, Staten Island Advance, Asbury Park Press, Los Angeles Free Press, The Coaster, the Mayor of New York’s website, LaborPress, and Labor Notes on issues of politics, racism, immigration, and labor. He was editor of the Local 1549 “Members in the Know” and “Shop Stewards in the Know” newsletters. The above work is part of a collection of columns called “Union Strong: Rebuilding the Labor Movement.”