Members in Meetings: A Good Idea?

I’m a steward, and the supervisor likes to cut deals behind members’ backs; he doesn’t want members present when we meet. Should I bring members into grievance meetings anyway?

— Not Horsing Around

Absolutely. I do it all the time.

First of all, it’s just great to let the member see how the process works, and get them involved in their own case. And it builds trust between you and the grievant.

Get your grievant to tell their story, and say what they saw. It’s great to watch the sups squirm when your grievant has evidence that contradicts management’s story of what happened.

Finally, management knows they can’t horse trade with you when the member is staring right at them.

Now, I’ve had some managers come up to me after the meeting, and try to wheel and deal then. I just tell them I’m going to bring the grievant over so we can discuss the settlement.

It’s usually good to bring the member in. But you’ve got to do a little more legwork upfront. But trust me: you’ll spend less time later explaining to the grievant what happened.

Before the meeting, I sit down with the member, and make sure they know what to expect and what I want them to do.

Go over with the member what they’re going to say, and not say. If your grievant changes their story in the middle of your meeting, your case is sunk.

Make sure they know to talk about what they saw firsthand. It doesn’t help to talk about what Sally said she heard from John, who heard it from Jose….That’s just hearsay. It doesn’t help your case.

If things aren’t going well in the meeting, I stop the meeting and take the member out for a caucus. I let them know they can pass me a note and stop for a caucus anytime.

One word of warning: make sure your grievant can keep their cool in the meeting.

As a steward, you have some degree of protection if you blow up at management. The grievant doesn’t. They can be disciplined for insubordination. If you don’t think they can keep it together, leave them out of the meeting.


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  • commented 2018-02-24 06:56:59 -0500
    I was a steward for years then B.A. for a time now I’m back as a Roll off refuse driver because I’m NOT a fan of salaried work combined with long commutes to the local.

    We had a surprise mediation meeting on an issue that affected multiple members including myself. (Surprise because the union notice never got to us…..AGAIN!!). The agent planned on having the steward there and no affected members. My steward argued with the union on the phone and I lit the agent up on text that it’s not appropriate for a mediation to occur without some affected members present.

    My steward had the great idea for me to just take a lunch and show up which I did. The meeting went fine since we were prepared and used our collective on-site experience to paint a clearer picture to the mediator.

    The more prepared members you have on your side the less chance managements fairy tales have of succeeding. My steward and I have experience so this works.

    With members without representational experience and in addition to your grievance investigation you will need to set some time aside with them before the meeting to get your information down to an organized coherent narrative that can stand up to reasonable scrutiny.

    This can be tough because while shop talk works fine in the yard with your buddies it can lose its effectiveness in grievances, mediation’s and arbitration’s.

    You can avoid free-for-all chaos if everyone on the union side knows what to expect from each other.
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