How to Solve
Grievances with Union
Useful information tounderstandthe subject,isthe goal of this summary
Universidaddel Valle de México
What are unions?
Unions are organizationsthatnegotiate withcorporations,businesses and other organizations on
behalf of union members. There are trade unions, which represent workers who do a particular
type of job, and industrial unions, which represent workers in a particular industry.
What do Unions do?
Since the Industrial Revolution, unions have often been credited with securing improvements in
working conditions and wages. Many unions were formed in manufacturing and resource
companies,companiesoperating in steel mills, textile factories and mines. Over time, however,
unions have spread into other industries. Unions are often associated with the "old economy":
companiesthatoperate inheavilyregulatedenvironments.Today,alarge portion of membership
is found in transportation, utilities and government.
Howdo unions affect the labor environment?
The powerof labor unions rests in their two main tools of influence: restricting labor supply and
increasing labor demand. Some economists compare them to cartels. Through collective
bargaining,unionsnegotiate the wagesthatemployerswillpay.Unionsaskfora higherwage than
the equilibrium wage (found at the intersect of the labor supply and labor demand curves), but
thiscan lowerthe hours demanded by employers. Since a higher wage rate equates to less work
on increasing the demand for labor.
Unionshave a unique legal positionandin some sense, they operate like a monopoly as they are
immune to antitrust laws. Because unions control, or can exert a good deal of influence on, the
labor supply for a particular company or industry, unions can restrict non-union workers from
depressingthe wage rate.Theyare able todo thisbecause legal guidelines provide a certain level
of protection to union activities.
What can unions do during negotiations?
When unions want to increase union member wages or request other concessions from
employers,theycando sothroughcollective bargaining.Collectivebargainingisaprocessin which
workers(throughaunion) andemployersmeet to discuss the employment environment. Unions
will presenttheirargumentforaparticularissue,andemployersmustdecidewhether to concede
to the workers' demands or to present counterarguments. The term "bargaining" may be
misleading, as it brings to mind two people haggling at a flea market. In reality, the goal of the
union in collective bargaining is to improve the status of the worker while still keeping the
employerinbusiness.The bargainingrelationshipiscontinuous, ratherthanjustaone-time affair.
If unionsare unable tonegotiate,orare not satisfied with the outcomes of collective bargaining,
they may initiate a work stoppage or strike.
What goes in a Union Contract?
There are no typical union contracts, because every workplace is slightly different, and so are
working conditions. However, some basic things are the same.
Definition: all contractsare productsof negotiationsbetweenthe workersandthe boss.Theyare
usuallywritteninboring,legalterms, but these are very important for securing your rights in the
According to labor law, contracts represent the minimum compensation and benefits for
employees.Anemployermayofferrightsandbenefitsthat exceed the minimum standards set in
an existing contract.
It should also be pointed out that all workers in the workplace should know what's in their
contract, because the bossesoftenwill trytoviolate contracts(thatiswhywe electshopstewards
and negotiate grievance procedures).The employercanonlysucceedinundermining the contract
if the workers don't stand up for their rights.
List of typical Contract Provisions
Union Shop - A provision that states that all employees must belong to the union as a
condition of employment.
No discrimination policy - employers cannot discriminate against employees because of
union membership, age, creed, color, sexual preference, religion, etc.
Grievance procedure - one of the cornerstones of unionism. This system provides a
way for most conflicts between management and employees to be peacefully
resolved. If an employee feels he or she has been wronged and cannot resolve it
with management, a union representative will meet with a management
representative and try to resolve the issue. If that fails, another attempt is made
with the management representative's superior. If that fails, an outside arbitrator
is called in, whose word is binding on both parties.
Hours & Overtime defined - usually40 hours at 8 hours a day. If more than 8 hours in one
day or 40 hours in one week are worked, overtime must be paid.
Work breaks defined - usually two 15 minute breaks per 8 hours worked.
UnionStewards - unionstewardsare simplyemployeeswho are elected to represent the
union on the job site. They make sure the contract is not violated, help employees that
have problems with management, and handle most of the grievance procedure etc.
No strike/no lockout - during the duration of the contract, the union may not strike and
management may not lock employees out of the workplace.
Appeal from discharge - in the eventthatan employee isfired,he orshe can appeal tothe
union for help within 30 days.
Wages- Unioncontracts will usuallydefine what the base rate of pay is. If a union simply
cannot secure a direct raise, there are other options available in getting better
compensation for employees.
Sunday premium pay - compensates employees at a greater rate for working Sunday.
Birthday as a holiday - Happy Birthday! Take the day off!
Health care - Most unions will work to insure that the employee has no monthly
Pensionfund- the contract statesthat the employerwill contribute somuchpermonthto
a pension fund.
There are manyotherthingsthat can and do gointo contracts:theyare tailoredfor each industry,
shop, factory, etc. Some contracts will have special provisions for unusual cases. Some contracts
may be "industry-wide" representing all workers in the same line of work for an entire region.
Even collectively owned workplaces might have a union contract that protect the democratic
rights of each worker-owner.
A typical grievance process
In a union environment, a typical grievance procedure begins with an employee presenting a
problemtohisor her immediatesupervisorwithinacertaintime periodafterthe offending event
has occurred. The supervisor then has a set amount of time to either respond or send the
grievance onto be addressedbythe headof the department.Atthispoint,aunionrepresentative
enters the negotiations on behalf of the employee. If the situation is still not resolved, the
grievance continuesupthe chainof commandto the plantmanagerand the president of the local
union.If the laborunionfailstofollow the procedures at any point, the contract usually specifies
that it must drop the grievance. Conversely, the company is usually obligated to resolve the
grievance in the employee's favor if management fails to follow the procedures outlined in the
collective bargaining agreement.
If the situationstill cannotbe resolved,the final stepinthe grievanceprocessisforboth parties to
present their side to an arbitrator. The arbitrator's role is to determine the rights of both parties
under the labor agreement, and his or her decision is usually final. The labor contract generally
specifies the type of arbitrator used, the method of selecting the arbitrator, the scope of the
arbitrator's authority, and the arrangements for the arbitrator's payment. A potential
intermediate stepinvolvespresentingthe grievance toamediator,whose jobistohelpthe parties
solve theirown differences before they reach the formal arbitration phase. Mediation is usually
less time consuming and expensive than arbitration. In addition, the mediator may be able to
teach the two parties dispute resolution skills that may be helpful in solving future problems.
What is a union contract?
A unioncontract - also calleda "collective bargaining agreement" - is a legally binding document
that isbindingbylawbetweenthe employee andthe employer.Itisnegotiatedwiththe employer
and provides for, among other things, wages, benefits, hours, general working conditions,
and procedures for addressing problems on the job. The advantages of having a Collective
Agreement are many. Among the biggest is that everyone is subject to the same rules -- no
favoritism, no wage disparity, not unjustified discipline.
A CollectiveAgreementhasaset startingandendingdate.Once the new Agreementisnegotiated,
it mustbe presentedtothe membersinaratificationvote. Members have a choice of whether to
accept or reject the Agreement. If a majority of those voting votes to accept the Agreement, it
officially becomes the contract that governs everyone's employment until it is renegotiated.
Afterthe Agreementisratified,itbecomes the union's job to make sure management lives up to
it.If managementtriestodosomething inwhich is not allowed under the Collective Agreement,
the union can launch a “grievance”. A grievance is a charge that management has violated the
Agreement.If management does not agree to make changes, the grievance can go all the way to
Arbitration,where aneutral thirdpartytrainedinworkplace disputes will decide the issue, much
like a judge in a court.