How Can They Make My Life Miserable?
There are many ways a supervisor can make your life miserable. Let's take a look at some of the ways management can try to wreck the grievance procedure and what you can do to counter them.
1. The stall: No it's not a piece of plumbing. This strategy is designed to make you wait. Your supervisor never replies to your request for a meeting or worse, never answers the first step grievance.
It is used for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that your request for some action is ignored. The tactic is frustrating and demanding. Your response should always be business-like. If the request for a meeting goes unheeded, make it again. If it is ignored a second time, put the request in writing with a copy to the union and the supervisor's boss.
If the issue is a response to a grievance, chances are the boss is trying to get you to miss your time limits. Never let that happen. If you do not get an answer within the time limits set out in the contract, appeal the grievance to step two with a note that the first step grievance was not answered in a timely fashion. Document your action and make sure the local union is aware of the problem. The second step appeal is made by a union officer so follow your local's procedure, and don't miss your deadline because of the stall.
2. The blow out: In this scenario, the boss wants you to lose your cool, usually at the grievance meeting. You could be ridiculed, ignored, yelled at -- anything to get you hot enough so that your emotions and not your intelligence rules. When you get angry, you forget your game plan and the meeting ends as a shouting match.
Sometimes the boss will aim the strategy at the grievant. Have you ever been at a meeting when the supervisor turns to your member and says something like this: "Did you really think you could get away with that?" Or "Aren't you old enough to know better?" Lines like this are designed to get the member angry enough to say something they should not. The member might disclose something on record which does not even belong in the meeting or they might lose their cool and become insubordinate.
At the grievance meeting, do the talking. Tell the member what to expect and not to get flustered or angry with any question which is asked. Educate the member before you go into the meeting. You can stop the meeting at any time to regroup and cool things down.
3. The trade. Formally called horse-trading, this tactic has nothing to do with ponies. It is an attempt by management to get something before they give something. You may be asked to give on one grievance to get a settlement on another. Never fall for this ploy. Decide all grievances on their merit. Horse-trading is an area in which the local union can incur liability.
4. Divide and conquer: A house divided on itself will not stand. And neither will a local union. Never allow any member to be played off against another. Never air disagreements in front of management. Have your discussion outside the room, out of earshot.
5. Side Issue. Here, the supervisor will bring up extraneous issues, other grievances, or the latest new company rule. If the meeting has been called to discuss a grievance, redirect the conversation back to the issue at hand, over and over again. Don't get sidetracked. Keep control of the meeting.
6. Shifting the burden of proof. This is often used in a disciplinary hearing or appeal. Management is charging the member with some kind of infraction. Under the general rules of discipline, they must prove their case. Let them speak and prove their case. This doesn't mean you stay stone silent during the meeting. You should play a very active role in defending the member, but it is the employer's job to carry the burden of proof.
These are six tactics that are used by management at the grievance meeting. They may be used to test the new steward; or to take control of the procedure back from the local union which has been successful in using it. Don't be fooled. Be forewarned and prepared.
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