Maribel works for Sweatshop Inc., a private homecare agency. She has worked there 12 years and speaks very little English. She wants to work full time but only gets 12 hours of work per week. Now, her manager says the company is going to cut her hours down to 8. Meanwhile, the company is hiring new workers and giving them 10 hours per day, seven days per week. Maribel knows this is not right, what can she do?
1. Maribel knows that every worker has a right to a copy of the contract. She asks her union representative for a copy. Her union provides contracts in Spanish as well as English. She receives a copy of the contract in Spanish.
The contract says that there is a seniority system — people who have been on the job longer get to choose their hours before people who have not been on the job as long. She has worked much longer than the new people who are getting more hours, so the company has violated the contract!
2. Maribel asks around and finds out that Flor is the Union Steward for her department. Flor says that she will help Maribel file a grievance against the company. Flor tells Maribel that she is glad Maribel came right away because you must file a grievance within 5 days after you find out about the problem.
Flor explains that the contract has a three-step grievance procedure.
Step 1: Flor goes with Maribel to talk to her supervisor about the problem. Flor says the Supervisor is violating the rules in the contract and that Maribel wants to work 40 hours in five days. The supervisor says there is nothing he can do about it and denies the request.
Step 2: Flor and Maribel appeal the decision of the supervisor and meet with the company personnel manager. This time they are joined by Joe, the union’s business agent. The personnel manager discusses the issue with Flor, Maribel and Joe and then offers a compromise:
Maribel will get 40 hours per week but will have to work weekends once every 3 months. Joe, Flor and Maribel go outside to discuss the offer in private. Maribel decides to accept the offer.
If Maribel had not accepted the offer or if the personnel director had denied the request, there might have been further meetings with a higher official of the company. If they still could not agree to anything, they would have gone on to Step 3: Arbitration.
Arbitration is the last step in a grievance procedure. It is like a mini-trial, where you argue your side and the company argues their side in front of an independent judge called an arbitrator. Arbitrations take a lot of preparation and are expensive (the union and the company usually split the cost). Most unions will send lawyers or experienced union officials to help out.
Collecting evidence. For any grievance, it is important to collect evidence. Maribel would want to find out who was working more hours than she was and how long they had been working at the company. Other important pieces of evidence include time cards, pay stubs and disciplinary reports. If you are disciplined or fired for an incident, write down the names of everyone who was there when the incident happened or when you were fired. If you know people who can support your story talk to them and ask them to speak to the union. Give all of this information to the union representative who is helping you file the grievance.
Group grievance. She would also want to find out if anyone else had their hours cut. If so they could file a grievance together. The more people who Maribel can find who have the same problem, the stronger their grievance will be.
Union’s role. One important thing to remember is that when the union files a grievance for you, they take over your case. The union officials will decide how far to go with your grievance, including whether to take it to arbitration or not. And, they can settle your grievance without your permission.