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Dear Steward: Don’t Delay

The following is an excerpt from a lecture given by a nationally-known labor arbitrator.

A small thing becomes a big thing

I have heard so many cases where three things have happened:

1. The parties have always followed the timelines in their contract stating when a grievance must be filed (or some other step in the grievance procedure).

2. A party delays and waits until the last day to file.  And something goes wrong, and it’s filed a day or days late.

3. The other side makes any number of arguments to turn this “small thing” into a big thing.  The other side wants the matter thrown out on timeliness grounds.

What went wrong?

Under #2 above, let me tell you what has happened from my cases.   The chief steward left the grievance in a jacket that he didn’t wear to work that day.  The email didn’t go through, because the steward did not hit the send button.  The steward was on vacation and the union later argued to management, that they knew he was on vacation.  Or the union steward was on medical leave.

I have even had management argue that the grievance was filed at 5:01 p.m., after the office closed.  It was a minute late.  The union argued that the deadline date is a business day, so it’s midnight.  I ruled that there was substantial compliance and the union’s grievance can go forward.

Not every case is the union’s fault.  I heard a case where the manager did not reply, which the contract required them to do.  The union argued that the company had abandoned the case, and that I should dismiss the discipline.  I read the contract and agreed with the union.

Whether you represent labor or management, you can always go to the other side and ask for extensions.  In a good relationship, that’s what should happen.

Conclusion

I have given you just the problem cases.  As a general rule, I enforce time limits which the parties have agreed to and have always followed.  The courts take the same position.  Time limits are there for a reason.  I know people are busy, but you should file early.  You can always change your mind, amend the filing, or withdraw it.  Please don’t wait to the last day.  Remember, I enforce time limits because it’s in the contract.

-Steward Council

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