When any local union examines the number of grievances filed in a year, they usually report that most of the paperwork deals with the issue of discipline.

While we don't often challenge the right of management to issue rules, we are more likely to challenge the manner in which management enforces the rules.

In most cases of discipline, members have a right to a fair investigation and a hearing on the alleged infraction.

While details and procedures may differ in certain contracts, there are some basic rules which apply to all disciplinary hearings.

1. The member should always ask for union representation.

First and foremost, if a member is called into any labor-management meeting in which he or she feels that discipline may be assessed as an outcome of the meeting, they should ask for a union steward to be present.

This is right that a local union must make clear to its members.
Contracts and bargaining laws may differ as to how that right should be exercised, but the bottom line is that no member should go into this kind of meeting without union representation.

Few members are well-versed in their contractual rights, work rules, and limitations on managements' rights as a union officer. A steward has protected rights at any labor-management meeting when acting as a union representative. A member does not. That means a steward can say things and act in the kind of advocacy role that a member cannot. And that role is protected usually by law and/or contract.

A steward has two key roles at any disciplinary hearing: (1) to protect the member, (2) to protect the union and the contract. These roles are inter-related.

2. What should the member do if the meeting is not a formal one?

Unfortunately, many meetings which result in discipline do not appear to be formal hearings when they start. A member might be pulled aside by a supervisor who asks, "Would you mind stepping into my office for a minute?"

A member should always question the nature of the meeting. "What's up?" is the usual response. A better answer might be, "I will comply with your request if you tell me what is the nature of the meeting." or "Sure, just tell me what's this all about."

If the supervisor's answer in any way indicates that the supervisor may be investigating an incident, reviewing a record, or if you feel that the meeting or its outcome in any way will take the direction of discipline, the member must ask to have a union representative present.

If the member is unsure of the content of the meeting, he or she should still ask for a union representative to be present. Denial of that request under certain laws and contracts is grievable and can (although not always) mitigate the discipline assessed over the alleged offense.

3. What should the steward do if the meeting has already started?

There will be times when the member does not exercise his or her right to representation at a disciplinary meeting. If the shop steward finds out and sees the supervisor's door closed, the steward should knock at the door and request that the supervisor inform the member that a union officer is outside waiting to sit in at the meeting.

If the request is denied, document the denial in writing and ask the supervisor to sign it. What you are doing is creating a record that the supervisor is denying the member his or her rights to representation.