Writing a Grievance that will not Make Agency Representatives Laugh
Let me you in on a little secret. Some of the best laughs we have in my office are when we read negotiated grievances submitted by union representatives (and sometimes ULP Complaints as well). Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nine years solid and proven experience as a Union Representative and Officer of a very large union local. However, as a union official, we required proper grievance writing and presentation so as to not embarrass ourselves or our members. Beyond embarrassment, proper grievance writing is critical in quickly resolving issues. Now, with nine years experience representing agencies, being on the receiving end of hundreds of grievances, I have a new perspective of why proper grievance writing is so crucial to both unions and members. This article will help you to have the agency seriously consider your grievance. Note, this article also applies to administrative (agency) grievances that typically apply to non-bargaining unit members.
As agency LMR/ELR representatives and consultants to senior level executives, our first objective upon receiving a grievance is to identify the claim. It is remarkable to us the number of grievances we receive that technically amount to gibberish. Yes, I said gibberish. In one case very recently, three senior LMR consultants reviewed a twelve page grievance submitted by the union. Despite their two MBA’s, a JD, and a combined thirty-two years of experience, they could not determine what the union was claiming or the requested remedy. In another grievance, the union representative simply copied and pasted nearly the entire table of contents of the Master Agreement under alleged violations with no further information. These encounters are nearly endless; I could write a book.
We regularly run into union representatives who pride themselves on submitting a twelve page grievance that failed to even state a claim or remedy, never mind actually prove the claim. Here is another secret I will let you in on. I always instruct my LMR/ELR Representatives that every piece of correspondence they write should not be written for the other party, but for a judge. Every correspondence between my shop and the union or employee tells the judge the story.
In situations described above or similar, your grievance will have no chance of prevailing. The agency is not required to speculate as to your intent as a union representative. The agency is only required to respond to what is written in the grievance and what remedy is asked for in the grievance. Therefore, it is critical union representatives write with laser like precision. Agency representatives do not care if you win or lose your grievance. Our job is to evaluate the grievance from a technical and legal perspective and advise deciding officials. If we determine the union’s claim is in fact true and constitutes a violation of the Master Agreement (or violation of a law, rule, or regulation), we advise management to resolve the dispute and grant appropriate remedies to the extent permitted by law. In some cases, we will actually compel management to do so. If we cannot decipher what you are claiming, we advise management to reject the grievance on that basis (you failed to present a claim). And do not think you will clarify at a grievance meeting. You are simply not allowed to change your grievance between the written submission and the grievance meeting. Instead, you would need to re-file the grievance (depending on contract provisions). The grievance meetings are for you to provide additional supporting information to your claim. If you never had a claim to begin with, or you stated the wrong claim, you are technically out of luck.
Inside Pointers for Grievance Writing
- · Present a well formatted document. Making the reader search for information in a poorly formatted document just stacks the odds against you. Remember, the goal is to persuade first 1) the ELR agency representative and then 2) the deciding official. If you manage to persuade the agency representative, typically the deciding official follows.
- · Write concisely. Words have meanings and meanings have specific words attached. Typically, the more exact your writing, the less words are required. ELR agency representatives appreciate proper word usage. There are many instances in which we find union grievances using words that are not only incorrect, but even completely wrong. A good agency representative will never speculate as to what you are trying to say.
- · Be clear about the alleged violation. Be very clear as to what you believe the allegation is. For example, cite the law, rule, regulation, or contract provision. If you are alleging a violation of “any matter related to the employment of the employee” (see, 5 USC 710(a)(9)(B), be sure to be descriptive.
- · Be very specific about how the alleged violation occurred. We suggest using the charge/specification model often associated with adverse actions and MSPB. As related to the document format, we even recommend a bulleted approach in presenting them in the document.
- · Attach supporting evidence. Though not stipulated in many Master Agreements, we believe a best practice approach is to always include supporting evidence, if any. This might include a written statement from the employee or a witness, time and attendance reports, photographs, etc.. Your goal is not to go to hearing. Your goal is to obtain your remedy and resolve the issue. To do this, it is best to be as persuasive as possible upfront. Whatever you do, don’t copy and paste the entire Master Agreement into the grievance (it happens). No one is impressed and in fact, you will be laughed at for a very long time.
- · Request a specific remedy that is authorized. We have seen grievances that included no remedy and we have seen grievances requesting $100,000. Both are a joke. We have also seen broad and ambiguous requested remedies such as “make employee whole” (no further info provided) or “return dignity and respect to employee.” The agency must be able to tangibly grant the requested remedy and such granting must be authorized by law, rule, or regulation. So, think carefully and be specific. Also, provide the basis. For example, how do you “make the employee whole?” Explain to the agency what is required to achieve this remedy. Did the employee lose any pay he was otherwise entitled to? Remember, if the employee was not otherwise entitled to the pay, the Agency cannot grant the remedy. You would have been better off going the EEO route in that case.
Remember, the objective is to obtain resolution to the grievance in the most expeditious and effective manner. You cannot achieve this by keeping the agency guessing. Persuasively and intelligently present your grievance and you may be surprised at the results.
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