February 27, 2013: My business agent is never prepared for our local level grievance hearings. He doesn't talk to us beforehand. He doesn't do any interviews or request any information.
Management knows it and they walk all over him. Then the agent tells us we have to take a bad deal, or send our grievance to rot at the panel. What can we do to make him do his job?
— Tired of Losing
Dear Tired, I know that you're paying his salary. But if you want better results, you're going to have to start doing more of his job for him.
Start with the grievance investigation. You can do a lot of it yourself, including gathering information and interviewing witnesses.
TDU’s book on Grievances will walk you through the Six W's of a grievance investigation: Who, When, Where, Why, What happened, and Witnesses. For discipline cases, you’ll also need to look at the Seven Tests of Just Cause, which you can read about by clicking here.
During a grievance investigation, the union has the right to request documents and other information from the company, but your contract may require that all information requests go through the BA. If it does, put together a list of the documents you want to request, and give it to your Business Agent.
Send your request to the BA in writing, and follow up with a phone call. You'll leave a paper trail and make sure that he's crystal-clear about the information you want.
Ask the agent to meet with you before the day of the hearing, to go over the results of your investigation, discuss the company’s argument and your argument, and make a plan for the hearing with management.
Arrange a signal to stop the meeting and go to a caucus if you don't like the way the hearing is going. Remember, most BAs have a huge backload of grievances and discipline cases they're dealing with. Many (but not all) will appreciate the work you've done and fight harder and smarter if you've done their homework.
Finally, the more you know about how the grievance procedure works and how to prepare grievances, the stronger you'll be. Check out the workshops at the TDU Convention to learn from some of the best stewards and BAs in our union.
Who is the Teamster Troublemaker?
Employers are quick to label any Teamster who sticks up for the contract or questions management's authority as a "troublemaker." Ask the Teamster Troublemaker is a column dedicated to spreading the information that "troublemakers" need to enforce members' rights and build a stronger Teamsters Union.
If you have question or comment for the Teamster Troublemaker, call TDU at (313) 842-2600 or email us at info [at] tdu.org.