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* What a steward should know
* Steward's responsibilities
* The grievance procedure
* Investigating grievances
* Past practice grievances
* Steward rights
* Just cause for discipline
* Breaking in a new boss
* Management rights
Management may say the union can't file a grievance because "it's not covered in the contract." But your contract's recognition clause says the boss must deal with the union on issues involving wages, hours and conditions of employment.
How many times has this happened: a problem arises at the workplace and the contract is "silent" on the issue at hand. Management claims that since the contract doesn’t cover the issue, the union has no basis for a grievance; that "management rights" allows them to do most anything they want. Often times we are faced with a grievance and have trouble finding a specific remedy in the contract. This is where the recognition clause comes in.
Most often the recognition clause is at the beginning of the contract and reads something like this: The employer recognizes the Union as the sole and exclusive bargaining agent, for the purpose of establishing wages, hours and conditions of employment.
Where Do Union Rights Come From?
The reason this kind of language is so common is that the recognition clause is just repeating whats in the Labor Relations Act : For the purposes of the Act, to bargain collectively is the performance of the mutual obligation of the employer and the representative of the employees to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.
Processing Grievances is A Form of Bargaining!
So under most of our contracts and under the law, the employer must bargain with the union — and processing grievances is a form of bargaining — when unresolved issues regarding wages, hours and conditions of employment arise.
Here’s an example: Employees have always been allowed to have radios in their work area. A new foreman orders all radios taken out of the work area. He claims they distract employees from doing more work. He also claims that under the management rights clause he has the right manage the work place, and this gives him the right to make changes.
This is a perfect example. The right to listen to radios isn’t in the contract, but the steward files a grievance under the recognition clause. Removing radios would be changing employees’ conditions of employment and therefore the foreman must bargain with the union before making any change.
Although the management rights clause says the employer has the right to run the work place, this is a general right and does not mean they can change any working conditions any time they want to. Management rights clauses that list specific items like, "management has the right to set starting times" means the union can’t complain about management setting starting times, unless some other part of the contract addresses the same issue.
Restrictions on Our Right To Bargain and Grieve
There are some restrictions on making employers bargain over conditions of employment. Although there is no basis in the law itself or in the LRB, the Courts have put some restrictions on our rights. As may be expected, the restrictions favour the bosses. The Court decided there should be mandatory subjects of bargaining and voluntary subjects for bargaining.
Never take the bosses word that they don’t have to bargain over an issue. Check with the Union first. Because even if the union has "waived" its right to bargain or grieve an issue, the Company may be obligated to bargain over the effect of the change.
The voluntary list is fairly small but covers some important topics. For example it is voluntary for an employer to bargain over the decision to close plants or eliminate part of the business. They must, however, bargain over the "effects on employees" of such decisions. This is where we bargain over severance pay, etc. A decision to close a plant that is based solely on wanting to pay lower wages may move this issue into the "mandatory" bargaining category. Other "voluntary" items are picking supervisors, pre-employment tests, advertising, management salaries, etc.
It's Our Duty
As most stewards soon realize there will be many fights over what the recognition and management rights clauses means. We must always try to use the recognition clause to demand the greatest rights for the workers and the union, "to push the envelope".
We must always try to make management bargain over any proposed change, no matter what the management rights clause says. We won’t win every one, but by sticking to our rights and having an active membership behind us, we can "train" management to bargain over most working conditions.
Issues the Boss Must Discuss
Here is a list of some issues that management must talk to the Union about unless the union has specifically waived its right to bargain or grieve them (by coming to agreement on the issue):