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The steps to solve problems

Now that you have a general idea of what stewards do, we can begin to talk about problems on the job and how stewards work to solve them.

Notice that we didn't say "grievances." Grievances are your last resort, not the first.

A grievance carried to arbitration is a lengthy, time-consuming, expensive, frustrating task that often ends up satisfying no one (except maybe the hired arbitrator we'll be paying). And units that simply go straight to grievance soon find their members expect "the union" to take care of everything.

So, what are all these problems you' ll need to help solve? Brace yourself.

  • Roger got stuck with a discarded hypodermic needle when he was emptying the trash.
  • Ellen says Carol finked on her to the boss.
  • Carlos was fired on the spot yesterday. Nobody knows why.
  • A new supervisor is demanding all the men in his shop wear neckties. Some of the men don't even own one.
  • Doretha says the crumbling stuff in the basement looks like asbestos.
  • Wai Lin heard that management is going to start telecommuting in two departments.
  • Leroy, who works in your widget department, saw the purchasing manager at lunch with two guys from Acme Widget Co. They might've been talking about contracting-out.
  • A story in the Daily Planet says state funds have been cut in half and layoffs of public employees are "imminent."
  • Brenda says she was denied a promotion because she' s African American.

If you're getting the idea that the whole work world is your turf, you're not far wrong.

But no matter what the problem is or who brings it to you, you always begin by doing three (and often four) things:

  1. Get the facts.
  2. Analyze the facts.
  3. Determine a strategy.
  4. Mobilize the members.

If there's a problem and we ignore it, then the union loses credibility, the contract is weakened, and every worker suffers.

But the same thing is true if the union jumps to conclusions and confronts a supervisor or files a grievance with faulty, false, or inadequate information.

Different problems require different strategies. Sometimes grievances involving an individual member's indiscretion -- lateness, absence, errors in judgment require you to respect the person' s privacy. Other grievances require informing and involving the entire membership.

Get the facts. Analyze the facts. Determine a strategy. Mobilize the members.