Something I learned as a shop steward


It can be discouraging to be a union shop steward. Short of going to arbitration it can be hard to win a grievance. Unless you get a manager to hear your grievance who is willing to do the right thing, it can take a year to move a case from the first level to arbitration. Short of arbitration, all the hearing officers who hear and judge grievances are managers. Short of full blown arbitration, management owns the destination for grievances.

Sometimes, I was discouraged as a steward. Despite the merits of my cases, it seemed I often “lost”. It was then I learned to stop focusing on winning and start focusing on really winning:

What does that mean?

If you control the journey and your adversary controls the destination, victory is yours when you make the journey the destination.

What is it we really seek to win when we file a grievance? We seek two things, the best possible outcome for our constituent and compliance with the contract.

It costs a lot of time and energy for the employer to process a grievance. If we focus on what we really seek to win, we can win even when we don’t win. My philosophy as a union steward is to file on every violation. If they fail to meet to discuss a grievance, as per the grievance article of the contract, that is another violation of the contract. I will file a second grievance on that and escalate the first grievance. Soon you have a swarm of legitimate grievances!

We own the process, the journey. We decide if and when to file a grievance. We decide how many grievances to file. They may own the destination, whether to grant or deny a grievance. But, we decide when the journey starts and we decide when to escalate a grievance.

If you play a card and it gets brushed aside, what do you do? If you have one you play another card! We can file as many grievances as there are contract violations. We never run out of cards when the contract is being violated. To quote Robert A. Jung, “if you have more cards in hand than each opponent, you may return Death of a Thousand Stings.”

If they know they will have to make the journey every time they violate the contract; the violations will eventually stop. Bad managers who do not follow the contract will clean up their act or will get tired and go away. I have been a union shop steward for over twenty years. It requires diligence, dedication hard work and often, perseverance.

We may not win all, or many, or any grievances, but sometimes that is not the victory to seek. The final outcome is the victory to seek. The focus of our efforts has to be on final outcomes. Whatever it takes to stop abusive recurring management practices and win compliance to the contract, that is the real victory we must seek.

NOTE –> These are my own personal opinions, views, information and perspectives regarding the labor movement in general and our local union, Chapter 307 of CSUEU, the California State University Employees Union at SJSU, San Jose State University, San Jose, California. This in NOT meant to represent the official union position on this or any other matter.


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