Investigation Strategies for Stewards

When a member approaches you with a workplace problem, you'll need a strategy; here are some guidelines to follow:

Take your time and carefully listen to the problem. If you don't have time, tell the member so, and then schedule a convenient time when you can listen without distraction. Encourage the member to talk freely. Ask open-ended questions. Have the member review the facts - more than once, if necessary. Facts may change as more information is provided, or as more time is allowed.

Inform the member as to how you will proceed in resolving the problem. Determine if the problem is grievable; if so, explain how the grievance process works. Go over the Investigative steps required; explain the contract time frames, and the possibility of delay. Be upfront and honest. Never make promises.

Investigate every aspect of the problem. Use the Six Ws (who, what, where, when, why & witnesses). Interview relevant, reliable and helpful witnesses. Seek precedents. Ask questions and keep written records of everything.

Read the Contract
Review the contract for any applicable provisions or language. If the contract is unclear, consult your business agent. Also check memorandum, letters of understanding, work rules, laws and past practices for possible violations.

Before putting the complaint on paper, you need to meet with the immediate supervisor and try to resolve it informally. Settling a workplace problem at the lowest step should be your preferred goal as a steward. If not settled at the informal meeting, then you file a formal grievance in writing.

Writing the Grievance
Before formalizing the grievance in writing, check with the business agent. File it according to the policy and wishes of your local union. Make sure that all the necessary information is provided on the form. Include any other records or evidence you found in while investigating. Write the grievance in clear, concise phrases without giving away any evidence (save that for later.) Be objective - leave out all personal comments, opinions or feelings. And make copies. Remember that during your investigation you asked the Six Ws; when writing the grievance, you have to answer them.

Stewards must conduct themselves professionally at all times. Through preparation, performance and honesty, you will gain the respect of your members and management. Set a good example at the workplace. Do your jobs well and perform your steward duties with integrity. Throughout the grievance procedure, keep your members informed. Good communications builds trust.