As previously stated, probably the most essential element in the handling of a grievance is getting the facts.
In the handling of time claims, the claim should contain the specific facts involved in the grievance as well as reference to the specific rule which allegedly has been violated. Such facts include what actually happened, the date of the occurrence, the yard or run involved, the engine number, train number, etc.
Remember the Five W's:
Who is involved in the claim or grievance? Name(s) of person(s) involved. Anyone who can furnish information concerning the claim or grievance. (Don't forget the supervisor or management representative who might have caused the claim or grievance.)
When did the claim or grievance occur? On what day and at what time did the act or omission take place that created the claim or grievance?
Where did this occur? Exact location-milepost number, yard, industrial track, terminal, etc.
Why is this a claim or grievance? What has been violated? Agreements? Supplement? Local Agreements? Past practice? Law? Rulings or Awards? In order to have a legitimate claim or grievance, there must be a violation of something. This "W" directs your attention to that specific something which has been violated.
What are the demands? What adjustments are necessary to completely correct the injustice and to place the aggrieved member in some position he/she would have been in had the grievance not occurred?
It is important to remember that many people cannot clearly distinguish opinion from fact. It is important to examine all facts, and make certain they do not contain opinions.
In the handling of disciplinary cases, getting the facts becomes even more important. In such cases, the aggrieved employee is frequently emotionally involved in the grievance and for good reason, since the employee's job might well be at stake. It is in the interest of the employee that the facts in the case be carefully checked. There is no substitute for thorough preparation of a case prior to investigations involving the discipline of employees.
The duties of a Local Chairperson are awesome. The membership frequently does not understand the burdens of the Local Chairperson's duties. Many of our members are of the opinion it is the Local Chairperson, and not the member, that is responsible for developing information on contract violations. In some instances, it will be necessary for Local Chairpersons to inject themselves into the fact-finding process. However, this does not excuse the claimant from furnishing as much information as possible with regard to a claimed agreement violation. The claimant is in a much better position to know the pertinent facts involving violations in which they are personally involved. They, not the Local Chairperson, stand to gain monetarily should the union be successful in defending their claim. We must all work together.
The handling of disputes are generally governed either by time limit rules established by national agreements, such as the time limit governing the negotiating and arbitration of interdivisional service issues, or by time limit rules established in individual system agreements between the parties. These time limit rules apply not only to the period within which a grievance can be filed, but also to the period within which a grievance can be appealed by our Union. The time limit rules also apply to the periods in which the carrier must respond to a union grievance. In other words, both parties are bound by the limits established in the agreements, whether national or local.
What is the purpose of time limit rules? They are essentially designed to expedite the handling of grievances. This is based on the idea that if there is delay in handling of grievances, the facts surrounding the grievances become blurred. The expeditious handling of grievances is essential for good labor relations. When it is recognized the purpose of a grievance is to enforce both the contract and protect the membership as a whole, it then becomes quite clear why it is essential to have time limits on grievances.
How Do You Count the Days in Relationship to the Time Limit?
At times a question arises as to just how one counts the days to determine whether or not time limits have been adhered to by the parties. For example, what is day number one if a yard employee starts his shift on 1 1 :00 P.M., July 1 , and violation of the agreement takes place on 1 :00 A.M., July 2? Similarly, when is the last day on which a carrier can reply? Is it the date of mailing the letter or the date of receipt? To be on the safe side, both the first and last day of the time limits should be counted.
These are technical questions on time limits, and it is important, from the UTU's point of view, that grievances not be lost because the time limit rule has not been followed. The best procedure is to make absolutely certain the time limit rule is being complied with. One should avoid technicalities in handling grievances.
As far as conferences are concerned, the Railway Labor Act contains a specific provision. When a conference is requested by either party-union or carrier-the other party must agree to a conference and set a date within ten (10) days after such request. The conference itself must be held within twenty (20) days after the receipt of the notice.
Rights of Claimants Involved in Continuing Violations
All rights of a claimant involved in alleged continuing violations of the agreement are, under this time limit rule, fully protected by continuing to file a claim or grievance for each occurrence (or tour of duty). With respect to claims and grievances involving an employee held out of service in a discipline case, the original notice of request for reinstatement with pay for time lost is sufficient.
As previously mentioned, in order to protect the claim or grievance within the time limit period, please keep in mind the right of representatives of the UTU to file and prosecute claims and grievances for and on behalf of the employee they represent. We all must work together to protect our agreements by filing and handling claims and grievances within the time limits.