8.3 Relations with Union Representatives

This policy was last updated December 20, 2023. See the update history page for more information.

8.3.1 The Role of the Union Steward

The union representative, or Steward, is an elected spokesperson for a group of employees in a particular shop or work area. It is the representative's duty to look after the members' interests, both within the union, and in their collective bargaining relationship with the Institute. A sincere and well-intentioned Steward who has the confidence of the employees can help to prevent misunderstandings and may often settle complaints before they become formal grievances. Wherever possible, a cooperative and reciprocal relationship should be established wherein the supervisor and the Steward can work together to the benefit of both the employees and the Institute. The supervisor can help to promote this relationship by discussing anticipated changes and developments with the Steward, giving courteous attention to the Steward's views on matters affecting employees, and otherwise showing that the Steward's position and role is recognized and respected. However, the supervisor should not permit the Steward to share in managerial decisions or to substitute for the free and natural exchange between supervisor and employee which is essential to a good employment relationship.

8.3.2 Time Off for Union Business

In general, it is the policy of the Institute to accommodate requests from stewards or union officers for time off for union business to the extent that such requests are reasonable and legitimate. Election to union office, however, does not entitle an employee to leave their work whenever the employee or the union considers it appropriate.

  • When to Excuse Union Officials from Work
    The question of whether a Steward or other union official should be excused from work to engage in union activities cannot be answered fully in a brief statement of policy, since the answer may depend upon the nature of the activity, the union official's responsibilities in that connection, the demands of the work, and other factors. Participation in joint activities such as contract negotiations, grievance meetings, and arbitration hearings is implicit in the contractual relationship. When the work load does not prohibit their absence, authorized officials should be excused from work for these purposes (paid or unpaid as described below).

    Grievance investigation is a legitimate function for which the Steward should be excused from work, subject to the needs of the supervisor, to insure that the total time spent on this activity is not excessive and that the work of the Steward and other employees in the work group is not unduly impaired.

    Union officials may be excused to engage in activities of interest only to the union, such as elections, political activities, and general union business matters. This time off the job is also subject to the control of the supervisor and the demands of the work, and is not a matter of contractual obligation, nor will such time be paid by the Institute.

  • Time Off With Pay
    The Institute's agreements provide that "where steps 1, 2, and 3 of the grievance procedure take place during working hours, the Institute will pay for time actually lost by the union officers and representatives and the employee involved." In practice, the Institute has exceeded this limited contractual commitment and in addition pays for time spent during working hours at contract negotiations and various other meetings with Institute representatives on matters of mutual interest and advantage, when authorized by management. However, this policy does not apply to arbitration hearings or for time off strictly for union matters.

    The Steward is permitted to leave their work for brief periods of time without loss of pay to investigate employee complaints arising in their area of responsibility when requested in advance and authorized by the supervisor, and where the operational needs can accommodate it. If union officials other than the Steward request time off with pay for this purpose, or for any other purpose except attendance at steps 2 and 3 of the grievance procedure, the matter should be discussed with the Office of Labor Relations staff and with the appropriate Human Resources Officer.

  • Time Off Without Pay
    If a Steward or other official is excused from work for any reason other than those discussed above, the absence should be treated as a leave without pay. To avoid misunderstandings, the employee should be informed of their pay status when excused from work.

8.3.3 Conduct Expected of Union Officials

Engaging in union activities during working hours, with or without pay, is conditioned on the Institute's understanding that the privilege will not be abused and that the union officials will conform to certain procedures and standards of behavior. The more important of these conditions follow:

  1. Time off for union activities will be held to the minimum necessary for the purpose involved and will be taken at times that cause the least inconvenience to the work.
  2. The Steward or other official must obtain the consent of the supervisor before leaving their own work area.
  3. Before entering another work area, the Steward or other official must obtain the permission of the supervisor in charge of that area to enter the work area.
  4. Grievance investigations will be conducted as quietly and privately as possible so as not to disrupt the work of other employees.
  5. No meetings, investigations, discussions or other activities that involve a number of employees or that would cause general disruption to the work of a particular group will be permitted during working hours.
  6. The Institute does not attempt or desire to stipulate union attendance at grievance meetings. It does, however, reserve the right to refuse to pay excessive numbers of union officials or employees who attend such meetings.
  7. Time spent on union business must in all cases be reasonable in light of both the work requirements of the department or laboratory and the obligations of the union officer or Steward as an employee. Appropriate steps will be taken to limit union activities during working hours whenever they impair the individual's effectiveness as an employee.

8.3.4 Conduct Expected of Supervisors

A supervisor is expected to control the activities of their work area and the conduct of personnel for whom they are responsible in an effective and reasonable manner when union business is involved. The supervisor also is expected to respect the rights of the union and its representatives.

If a union representative requests time off for union business, a limited but reasonable period of time should be granted, as noted in this Section 8, if the lost time will not be in conflict with the interest of the work. If the work flow will not permit the Steward to be released at the time requested, then another time period should be arranged that is mutually convenient and practical.

A union Steward from another department, laboratory or group may ask to visit the work area to conduct union business. The Steward's request should be accommodated if reasonable adjustments to the work schedule can be made at the time requested. If the work may not be reasonably interrupted at the time requested then a more appropriate time should be arranged with the representative.

8.3.5 Official Union Membership Meetings

Official union membership meetings may be held on Institute property if rooms are properly arranged for and authorized by management in advance, and the meetings are conducted in an orderly manner. Such meetings may not be conducted during employees' normal working hours. Union members will not be permitted to leave their work area during normal work hours to attend official union membership meetings.

8.3.6 Bulletin Boards

All unions have been assigned bulletin boards for the exclusive use of the union officers to post notices of official union business only. These boards may not be used for any other purpose. Use of the official union bulletin board for political activity, campaigning for elections, or any other purpose is not permitted.