The grievance meeting is the advocate’s time to demonstrate that they have done their homework and are prepared to present their case. Over 32 year ago I held my first grievance meeting and I was so nervous that my knees were clattering together. What kept me focused was that I had done my homework. I had been well trained, actually not, someone from the union had given me a “How to” steward’s booklet. I studied that booklet cover to cover and trusted the contents. Wow, I would have loved to had available such a class like this to enable me to be an effective advocate. Nevertheless the booklet provided me guidance which I followed. After the grievance meeting commenced my nerves started to diminish and my confidence continued to grow. That was because I was prepared. I had done a thorough investigation, researched the contract, and written a pretty decent grievance statement. I prepared the grievant as well as myself. We knew what we we were going to say, and not say. We were going to stick to talking points and not be sidetracked by small talk or an unrelated topic. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes, although I had been up until 3 AM that day preparing. The grievant’s supervisor did attempt to intimidate us but we stuck to our guns so to speak and didn’t allow him to push us around. The supervisor did sit behind his desk. That was a technique that I attempted to equalize as much as possible by requesting in my future advocacy by meeting in a neutral conference room. We knew we had a legitimate grievance. It concerned an unsafe working condition. We, and I say we because I have always thought of the grievant as my partner in the representational process, did not receive a favorable reply from the supervisor but we resolved the matter to our satisfaction at the next grievance step. The point that I am making is be prepared. There is no substitute for preparation. Know the grievant, your case, the contract, and prepare yourself to be the best advocate. Now a days it’s called the “Wow” Factor. When you walk out of a grievance meeting you want the grievant to say “Wow” you know your stuff. Now lets look at a few techniques to help you acquire a “Wow” statement.
Now that it’s time to present the grievance lets look at a few basic considerations. Any grievance meeting will include the presentation of facts, strategies and personalities. Personalities often have an impact on a grievance presentation, even the advocates. This is not the time for the advocate to be a showoff, bully, or know it all. This is the time for the advocate to present themselves as person who has effectively prepared and thoroughly know their case. This is a time to be calm, cool and collected because you know the facts support the grievance. Before you step foot in the grievance meeting review your case on more time. Check your case to determine what is opinion and what is fact. Your points and arguments have greater weight if they are based on the facts and not on opinions. This not to say that a statement of opinion is not important for emphasis now and then but the greater emphasis should be based on facts. Facts should be gained from an original source. If information is presented based on what someone was told or heard indirectly it is considered hearsay and therefore is considered weak evidence. For instance if I as the instructor I told you something about this class it would not be hearsay because you heard the information directly from me. On the other hand if you learned the same information from someone other than me that would be considered hearsay. Hearsay evidence, while admissible in arbitration, it is given little if any weight. This is why it is best to eliminate hearsay and stick to the facts early in the grievance process. Last, check to make sure your facts are relevant. It’s just a matter of checking your facts against the issue that has arisen and asking yourself is each fact that I will present in the grievance meeting relevant. Use your common sense and gut instincts. If the answer is no, then dispose of the irrelevant facts.
Often a grievant will not have experienced a grievance meeting before. A grievant may find themselves nervous about confronting their supervisor. For that matter so too may the advocate. Explain to the grievant what may may happen in the meeting. Usually after a polite and respectful greeting and introductions, followed by a little small talk then the meeting will proceed. When I am opening a meeting that will challenge the action of the other party I generally find out a little about the other party’s interest and hobbies and make a comment or ask a question about their hobby or interest. If they attempt the same I oblige them. This is a valuable tactic to use that may remind everyone present that our lives extend beyond the workplace. It is also a good “icebreaker”. Explain to the grievant that since the union is the moving party it is customary for the advocate to present their case first. Remind the grievant that the advocate is the primary spokesperson but it may be necessary and appropriate for the grievant to offer additional information or detail about the issue. The grievant should take their queue from the advocate before offering information or answering questions. Again remind the grievant that the advocate is the lead spokesperson and that status is supported by law. Also, prepare the grievant for responses that are anticipated by management. The advocate should anticipate managements responses and be prepared to rebut firmly and effectively. The grievant and the advocate must be self-disciplined and avoid any irrational emotional responses. It’s ok to be passionate but not obnoxious, insulting or disparaging. I can assure you that will not lead to potential settlement discussions.
During any grievance meeting it is important that presentation and communication have a large degree of order and structure. Establishing some non-verbal signals will provide an opportunity to the grievant to communicate with advocate while maintaining order. This may be accomplished by quietly and discreetly passing a note, placing your hand on a wrist or passing a note to request a caucus. A caucus is an opportunity to step out of the meeting to conduct a private conversation. I usually us the hand on the wrist of the grievant to relax, and avoid speaking unless prompted. I use a caucus to discuss the grievant’s behavior, new facts, or settlement possibilities. To the extent possible the use of a caucus should be minimized.
Similar to previous points made in another slide preparing the grievant is necessary. This may be done through a rehearsal. Review with the grievant the points that will be made and the rationale that supports the statement. The advocate should review the points they will request the grievant to state. The advocate can assist the grievant by asking questions that will solicit the information that the advocate wants the grievant to present. Then using the answers the advocate solicited work with grievant to rehearse a narrative statement that provides the information without question. Make sure the grievant stays within the scope of the answers when converting their answers to a longer narrative. Practice emotional control with grievant. The advocate can attempt to provoke the grievant by playing the role of management. Emotional rehearsals is just as important as content rehearsal. The advocate should remind the grievant of the benefit of maintaining a calm demeanor during a grievance meeting or during an arbitration hearing as a witness.
The purpose of the grievance procedure is to resolve contractual disputes that arise. The settlement of these disputes, without an arbitrators binding decision is accomplished through grievance negotiations. The advocate should understand that these negotiations are, in effect, an extension of the collective bargaining process. As the advocate prepares to represent the grievant it is important that the advocate know what defines an effective remedy that will settle the grievance. The outcome of a grievance settlement should be defined by the fact that the matter was settled but instead should be measured by the effectiveness of the outcome. The settlement is not about winning. It’s about gaining an outcome that preserves the integrity of the agreement and the rights of the employees. Knowing what defines success should be determined before any agreement is reached. Settlement should not undermine the contract. When a settlement offer is offered consider it must be considered carefully and not hastily accepted because management budged. I have experienced many proposals of “Were sorry we won’t do it again! Now will that settle the matter?” I never accepted such a remedy because it was a non-remedy. Accepting such a proposal still allowed a breach of contract to stand. It is not an appropriate remedy. If a remedy is not acceptable then appeal it to it’s next step but an advocate should have a few possible remedies in mind that support and uphold the contract. Ultimately, the union, and not the grievant, has the final say on the remedy. This is a legally supported right that ensures that the union is responsible for safe guarding the collective interests of bargaining unit. Sometimes the grievant wants a pound of flesh when management has offered a pint of blood. Hopefully the advocate and union can reconcile on an accepted remedy. But, if not the union advocate must consider the interests of all.
Perhaps some of the points that have been previously are being restated here again. Preparation for a grievance meeting does not require a legal background. It involves a thoughtful, conscientious and logical effort on behalf of the advocate. Essentially is it is a paint-by-the-numbers process. If you put the brush the paint in the right numbers you’ll end up with a portrait worth framing. Think of your preparation your opportunity to frame your representational portrait. Its simple. Use the tools in your toolbox to build your best case. Be proactive and offensive in your approach. Preparation is the key. Be prepared to think like management and anticipate their responses. Then prepare your reply. Think of grievance representation as a game of chess. Always anticipate the next move. Being unprepared will lead to a reactive and defensive approach.
Any negotiations involve people, yet most often it seems that negotiations are focused on personalities and not the problems. Negotiators often act more like competitors trying to defeat the other person. Unfortunately the problem is often overlooked and unsolved. It requires discipline to focus on the problem. There is a mantra used in principled negotiations: “Be soft on the people and hard on the problem”. This simply means attack the problem and not the person. Attacking the person will rarely lead to a negotiated settlement. The reason for negotiating is to satisfy a need or interest. In the case of a grievance negotiations the grievant’s interest is to receive the due benefit or right of the collective bargaining agreement. Management may believe that a grievant’s right or benefit was afforded and that management’s actions did not abridge that right. The key is to arrive at an understanding that will settle the dispute. Most likely the parties have taken up their respective position. That is each party has assumed one method for resolving the issue. However, there are often more ways than one to resolve the issue. Inventing options, or put another way, multiple positions, gives the parties more room to compromise. Remember agreement can be reached more easily if the interests of the parties are understood. The ability to create or invent options to satisfy interests is much easier when you simply discover what the interests, and not the singular position, of each party.
Time to Present <ul><li>Opinions vs. facts </li></ul><ul><li>Facts vs. hearsay </li></ul><ul><li>Facts must be relevant </li></ul>
Grievant Preparation <ul><li>What will happen </li></ul><ul><li>What advocate will say </li></ul><ul><li>What advocate anticipates management will say </li></ul><ul><li>Advocate is the lead – grievant will follow </li></ul>
Grievant Rehearsal <ul><li>What will be said </li></ul><ul><li>When it will be said </li></ul><ul><li>Rehearse presentation </li></ul><ul><li>Check emotions </li></ul>
Grievance Negotiations <ul><li>Determine bottom line before meeting </li></ul><ul><li>Settlement should not undermine contract </li></ul><ul><li>Union has final say on remedy </li></ul><ul><li>Unacceptable remedy appealed to next step </li></ul>
Checklist <ul><li>Build your best case </li></ul><ul><li>Anticipate managements behaviors/actions </li></ul><ul><li>Prepare responses/rebuttals </li></ul>
Grievance Negotiation <ul><li>Separate people from problem </li></ul><ul><li>Negotiate interests and not problems </li></ul><ul><li>Invent options for mutual gain </li></ul>