January 23, 2013: UPS Teamsters might give a higher approval rating to Congress than to their broken grievance procedure.
At contract time, many are pointing to problems with the grievance panels and how to use contract bargaining to make the grievance process work better for members.
Panels are notoriously slow. They often operate like secret chambers. And the union seems to be able to win only a tiny percentage of the cases that are actually decided.
Contract negotiations are a key time to negotiate improvements in the grievance procedure to make the panels work for Teamster members.
Negotiate a Grievant's Bill of Rights
The Teamsters National Master Freight Agreement has a Grievant's Bill of Rights—why not the national UPS contract? The Bill of Rights in the NMFA gives members and stewards the right to attend hearings, requires that cases involving discharge and suspension are recorded, that all Union and employer panel members are identified prior to the hearing, and gives members the right to transcripts of Panel proceedings.
Speed Up the Process
It can take months before a decision on a grievance is made, especially if the case deadlocks and goes to arbitration. In the meantime, a discharged member can be in the street. In Chicago Local 705, a standing arbitrator sits in on all disciplinary panel hearings. If the company and union deadlock, the arbitrator issues a bench decision. This system would deliver swifter justice and discourages the union from accepting weak settlements on good cases just in order to avoid delays.
Right to Strike
The Central Region Supplement contains the right to strike over some deadlocked grievances, but the threat is never used. For rampant and serious violations of the contract, such as the mass elimination of 22.3 full-time jobs, the right to strike would be a powerful threat, short-circuiting the red-tape and delays in the grievance procedure.
Other steps that would strengthen the grievance procedure don't have to be negotiated. They can be implemented right now.
Get the Panels out of Resorts
What kind of message are top Teamster officials sending to members when grievance meetings are held in vacation destinations. Our union needs to put a stop to the cozy relationship many officials have with UPS management—hanging out in the bar and hitting the golf course together.
Training and Consistency
All BAs and union representatives should get ongoing training on how to successfully prepare and present grievance panel cases. So should the Teamster officers who sit on the panels. One reason management gets the upper hand is they take a coordinated approach to presenting and ruling on cases.
Make Grievance Decisions Available
All decisions and interpretations should be available on the web. Management shares this information. Why doesn't our union? Stewards, business agents and even members could use a database of grievance decisions to understand how the contract is being interpreted and find precedents to strengthen their case.
TDU and the Make UPS Deliver network publish all dockets and panel decisions on their websites. Click here to see recent panel decidions.
"All decisions and contract interpretations should be made easily available to UPS members.
"Another reform that could be implemented right away is to make the Chairmen write dispositions on why the case had merit or not. Often times you’ll get a ruling like 'based on the facts presented, the claim of the union is denied or upheld.' What facts were relevant? What would have changed the outcome? We also need a tally of who voted which way on our side. We can hold our peoples' feet to the fire if we knew there was one person always selling us out."
Nick Perry, Part-time Steward
Local 413, Columbus, Ohio
"The current grievance process is a 'good ole boy' system and UPS loves it exactly as it is because it always works in their favor. They abuse it and use it to bully members.
"When I was terminated for refusing to pull a trailer without working tail lights, side marker lights and a license plate light, OSHA and an administrative law judge both ruled in my favor, stating 'Respondent [UPS] attempted to convince Complainant through misinformation that it was in fact not a violation to drive the truck in its condition. At the very least, Respondent showed a complete disregard for the safety of Complainant and the public by continously instructing Complainant to drive the truck after he repeatedly stated he did not feel it was legal or safe.' But the union and company still agreed I should be disciplined and I still got stuck with a one-day suspension.
"This was a heinous and deliberate act of demoralization so ever present at UPS that remains unchallenged by our union and is a glaring example of why we need a change in the grievance process.
"A grievance 'Bill of Rights' would help members hold our officials more accountable and protect the rights we have under the contract and the law."
John Youngermann, Feeder Steward
Local 688, St. Louis