Not all complaints are legitimate grievances and the steward must investigate the employees story. He/she must check the facts to see whether they are accurate. The steward must determine if the worker’s rights were violated and if the steward’s investigation indicates that the worker’s complaint may be justified, the worker has a legitimate grievance. But if after investigation the steward finds that the worker misunderstood the contract or misrepresented the facts; or the complaint cannot be regarded as a labor-management dispute, the worker’s complaint is not a legitimate grievance.
One of the toughest tasks you will encounter as a Union representative is telling a member their issue is not a legitimate grievance. There will be times when the steward is approached by employees who have no legitimate grounds for complaint. It’s important that the steward carefully explain why the employee has no grievance. If the employee is dissatisfied with the explanation, the steward should point out where, within the union, the complaint can be taken for a higher decision.
You will at times find that a complaint was in fact truly unfair, but after completing your investigation your findings cannot support a legitimate grievance. As the Steward you must talk with the member and discuss the results of your investigation; make it clear that the problem is not a grievance, why it’s not, and offer solutions or suggestions for resolving the issue.
Care must be exercised in filing frivolous grievances. There is a basic danger involved in processing unjustified complaints. Management may lose respect for the steward if it feels that the steward does not have the knowledge or authority to distinguish between a legitimate and a nonexistent complaint. The result may be that management stiffens resistance on a legitimate grievance under the theory that the steward is “untrained” to know when there is a good case and might possibly even bypass you as a Union representative altogether.
The employees, too may lose respect for the steward if they think the steward will process everything. A steward with a long list of lost grievances to his or her credit will not have the confidence of the employees represented. The net result of the steward’s taking up poor grievances can only be to reduce his or her effectiveness as a union representative.
Be prepared for the emotions when you tell them a grievance doesn’t exist. You must always try to put yourself in their shoes. The employee may already feel slighted or wronged and when you inform them there is nothing that can be done, they may become angry or frustrated at the Union. It’s hard to say no but there are some things you can do to ease the process and make things less painful for all parties involved….
Minimize the problems by actively working with the member(s). Before you handle a workplace problem explain what they can expect from you; specifically what you can and cannot do and get them involved in the process.
Don’t put off telling the member the bad news. No one wants to deliver bad news but the longer you wait, the more you may upset the employee when you deliver the information. Telling the employee promptly also shows them you took the issue seriously enough to investigate in a timely manner.
Always make sure you discuss the issue with the effected employee first.
Make sure you explain the issue fully to the affected member. Take time to sit down and go over your investigation. Show all facts you used to arrive at your final decision. If you’ve had similar issues you can draw from, discuss the background and what happened.
The employee when told the news that a grievance does not exist… may have all types of emotions. As long as these emotions are not directed at you they should be able to express their feelings. Let them know you understand that it’s upsetting.
You should NEVER make promises to a member that you can get their issue resolved. The most important quality to get across is direct and honest concern for the member. But the Steward should not make promises about taking action on the situation if action isn’t warranted or justified at the time.You will greatly weaken your authority as a Leader if you continue on this path.
Even after applying some of the above practices’, some employees will still be left angry while others understand the Union’s position in the matter. What’s more important here is that other members will see that the Union takes the contract seriously, and take workers concerns and problems seriously, but doesn’t undermine its responsibility or credibility by pursuing frivolous or non-legitimate grievances. It also sends a message to management that the Union takes its responsibility seriously.
Don’t let a bad reaction get you down… you will never please everyone all the time.