The Grievance Meeting:
How to Present a Grievance to Management
November 7, 2013: The first stages of filing a grievance can be the most important, no matter what kind of grievance procedure your contract contains. This is the point at which information is gathered and arguments are tested. It is the time when membership involvement and pressure can make the most difference. And this is also the point at which mistakes can be avoided.
This article discusses how to present your grievance to management. The timing and kind of meeting you have will depend on your contract. This will also likely govern who in management you will be dealing with. But the skills used around presenting grievances are universal.
While geared to stewards, this fact sheet should also be useful for any member who has to meet with management over a grievance.
You will want to have your ducks in a row well before you go into the office with management. Here are some of the things to consider:
- Have you documented your case? Grievances are often won or lost before you get in the office. You've got to prepare your arguments and back them up.
- Have you made an evidence list, including names of witnesses?
- Have you gotten statements in writing from witnesses?
- Have you or the union made a formal information request, in writing?
- Have you gotten management's side of the story? What are some of their arguments? What evidence do they have?
- What are the weak points, if any, in your case? Don't wait for management to point them out. Be prepared.
Road Map for Presenting a Case
Review the issues, facts and arguments you think will be most helpful to your case.
Problems. What are the main problems that the grievance is trying to address? In what order will you present these problems?
- Facts. Who are your witnesses? What documents do you have? Are there pictures or diagrams that would be helpful?
- Chronology. Write out the dates of events, in order, and of documents that relate to the case.
- Arguments. Write them out. Put them in the order you will want to present them.
- Remedies. Be prepared to discuss and respond to proposed remedies to resolve the grievance.
Common Problems and Surprises
- Changing stories. A witness tells the story as you have heard it—then adds something or tells another part of the story that you have never heard. What can you do? Call for a caucus (a private meeting among just the union people). The time out will give you a chance to regroup.
- Agreeing with management on certain points—or suddenly accepting an inferior offer to settle the grievance. Stay away from agreeing to anything management says, unless you have caucused and decided what kind of settlement would be acceptable.
- The steward or union representative will not stand up to management. Ask for a caucus and talk to them privately to discuss the problem and get on the same page.
- Management presents new evidence or claims to have evidence but won't present it. File information requests where possible to avoid surprises. If you're caught off guard by new evidence, then take a break to caucus with your BA and member to discuss moving forward.
Tips for Grievance Meetings
Set Union Ground Rules
A good steward or business agent should agree to some ground rules. A common one is: never contradict what another union person says or agree to a management proposal without stopping for a caucus.
Don't Let Management Dominate the Meeting
The union and management are on equal footing in a grievance meeting. This applies to the shop steward under the Equality Principle. Don't let management dominate the meeting, interrupt or bully the witness or grievant.
Use Meetings to Get Information
Part of your job in a hearing is to find out what management is up to—and what their arguments are. This is especially important with grievances that may end up at the panel or in arbitration.
Who Goes First
In disciplinary meetings, management goes first. They are the prosecution and it's up to them to prove their case. Make them state their complete case and present all their evidence. Ask questions, including: is that your complete case?
Get Agreements In Writing
You may not do this for every little grievance, but definitely do it with discipline cases and contract interpretation issues. If management refuses to sign-off on an agreement, write your own understanding of the terms and give or send it to them.
Your goal should be to control the tone, direction and outcome of a grievance meeting. Here are some basic suggestions:
- Ask questions. One strategy is to get management talking and keep them talking. Force them to explain actions. Take note of lies or discrepancies.
- Take your time. Set the pace. Management likely considers grievance meetings a waste of time. Take the time needed to address everything.
- Don't lose your temper. Being aggressive and firm is good. But do not let management make you lose control when you don’t want to.
- Use anger strategically. Stewards have the right to go head to head with management and argue aggressively. Use anger strategically but not because you've lost your cool.
- Read out loud. If the contract is helpful, make management read the contract language out loud or read it to them.
- Take notes. Someone should be prepared to take written notes. Initial meetings are often used to find out where management stands, what evidence they have and so on. Write down key management statements. After the meeting, take a minute to jot down anything you may have missed. Make a note of the date and time and who was present.