The Steward's Role at a Hearing
The nature and procedures of disciplinary hearings are governed by law, contracts, and/or procedures.
In general, the steward should follow these guidelines at a hearing:
1. Speak to the member prior to the hearing. If it is a formal disciplinary hearing with a notice, check the notice and proceed with an investigation of the alleged infraction. If you are called in at the last minute, seek a postponement so that you can make a proper investigation. If the meeting is informal, make sure the member has time to talk with you ahead of time or take a recess to get some understanding as to what happened.
2. Prior to the hearing, inform the member who will be present, how the meeting will be conducted and what he/she should expect.
3. Get as much information as you can beforehand. Do not let the employer withhold information. If they do, speak to your local union. Document any denials of information in writing and get it on the record.
4. If there are any witnesses at the meeting or hearing you should question them as you see fit. In most formal hearings, the process of questioning the company's witness is called cross-examination. You have a right to ask these witnesses questions to determine the accuracy of their testimony and their biases. Your rights to questioning should not be interfered with by management. If you are denied that right, make sure that such denial is entered on the record.
5. It is perfectly proper for members to answer questions with, "yes," "no," or "I don't know." Once the member has answered a question, he/she is under no obligation to elaborate.
6. At most hearings the steward can take as active a role as he/she sees fit.
7. You can stop the meeting at any time to speak privately with the member.
8. Take notes or bring in a second person to take notes.
9. Do not rely on the supervisor's notes.
10. The written record is important. It documents what actually was said, not what was allegedly said. Cases have been won and lost on the accuracy of the record.
11. The bottom line is to make sure that the member is treated as fairly as possible under circumstances that are heavily weighted against him/her. You must handle all discipline as if the case will go to arbitration. Remember, even if the investigation does not go the way you had hoped, you can challenge the discipline, how management conducted itself through the process, or the just clause section of your contract by appealing through your grievance procedure.
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