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Analyzing the problem.

Once you've gathered all your facts, it' s time to analyze the information. If you're a new steward, you' ll probably meet with your chief steward, your union rep, and maybe even your union's attorney.

  • WHAT is the real problem? Is this what it seems or a reflection of something deeper?
  • WHY did (or does) the problem occur?
  • WHEN did the problem occur (if it's an incident)? How long has it been going on (if it's a safety or health hazard)? If there's the possibility of a grievance, be sure to scope out the step time limits for filing. Has this occurred in the past?
  • HOW did the problem come about? Misunderstanding? Provocation? Carelessness? What mechanisms are driving the problem?
  • WHERE did (or does) it occur? Be specific. Location can be important.
  • WHO is involved in the problem? List every-one involved or affected by the problem, not just the principals.
  • WITNESSES to the problem. Reliable? Intimidated? Biased? Highly credible? All in agreement? None in agreement?

Now that you're sure of the facts, of what actually happened or what is actually going on, you can establish the category of the problem and decide what strategy (big plan) and tactics (smaller moves) can best be used to solve it.

Most complaints will fall into one (or more) of five general categories:

  • Violation of the contract.
  • Violation of federal, state, or municipal laws including wages and hours, fair labor standards, equal opportunity, and civil rights.
  • Violation of the employer's personnel policies, work rules, or administrative procedures.
  • Violation of "past practice." Practices long accepted by the union and the employer acquire a legal validity of their own. (This principle can work against the union as well as for us.)
  • Violation of equal treatment. (These are really like No. 2 above, but with a kind of special character conferred by a whole host of laws and agencies like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and other democratic measures widely accepted.)

If the problem fits one or more of these categories, further action is probably called for and the case is potentially winnable.

Even if the worker's problem doesn't meet these standards, unions have a wide range of persuasive options available to them. You'll learn these as you go along.

But unfortunately, you will be confronted by some problems that the union can't resolve. It is your responsibility to handle them fairly, defend the worker's rights, and build support within the union so you can come back to fight another day.