Examining the Friction Between the Union and Management – Why Filing Grievances May Do More Harm Than Good – Part Two

by | Nov 8, 2020 | Workplace Matters

I previously wrote an article about unions and management.  Two of the hospitals that I worked at had unions.  In these facilities, most non-management employees (pharmacists, pharmacy techs, lab workers, nurses, x-ray techs, speech therapists, etc.) belonged to the union.

I was a member of the union, when I was a staff pharmacist.  I was a member of management when I was a pharmacy manager.

But regardless of what side I was on, there were several things that I noticed:

  1. The first salary percentage increase should never be taken too seriously.  It’s a starting point.  Management doesn’t expect the union to accept it.  And the union never accepts management’s first offer.  Nonetheless, management goes low and the union goes high.  And then both sides meet in the middle.

  2. Compromise is a must.  Neither management or the union expects to get everything they want.  However, both sides know that they must be willing to give up certain things in order to get certain things.

  3. It’s a game of bluff. Both sides want to settle.  Neither side wants a strike.  But it might be necessary to walk away from the table (and even threaten a strike) in order to facilitate an agreement.

Since both sides know the game, they are expecting the battle.

When I was a member of the union, I scrutinized everything that management was saying.   Even the most innocent and logical requests would not be performed without running them by my union representative.  And if I didn’t want or didn’t feel like doing something, I’d cry “grievance”.  Then I’d let the union battle it out with management.

Similarly, when I was in management, I’d review my requests with my boss, upper management, and human resources before I’d announce them to my union staff members.  Many times, I would expect my union staff members to object or even cry “grievance”.

But that was fine, That’s what I expected.  And that’s what management expected too.

Both the union and management knew that neither side would ever take an item to grievance unless they had a good chance of winning.  Or that they could use it as a bargaining chip.  In other words, lose this particular grievance in order to win something else.

Thus, the threat of taking something to grievance was mostly a ploy to get something you wanted and hopefully not give up too much in return.

Examining Union Matters

I was in management for 30+ years.  I may be somewhat biased but I always felt that being in the union was more detrimental for my pharmacy staff members than not being in the union.  Sure the union provided its members with salary, benefits, and security.  But I sometimes felt that many of the contract rules were more harmful than helpful to my unionized pharmacy staff.

Here are a couple instances where this was the case:

Dealing With Seniority

The contract always preached seniority.  I understand the logic of seniority.  Those individuals who have been there longer should get more pay, benefits, and perks than those individuals who haven’t been there as long.  However, I can think of several cases where the rules of seniority hurt the less senior members.

Most of my pharmacists worked the 7AM- 3:30PM day shift.  I also had two pharmacists that worked the 2:30PM- 11PM evening shift. If a person worked a double shift, they would be working from 7AM- 11PM or 16 hours. It was a long day.

I rarely provided coverage for sick call on the day shift.  There were enough pharmacists.  However, if one of the evening shift pharmacists called in sick, I always arranged sick call.

The issue of seniority was used to determine who would cover the sick call slot on the evening shift.   I started with the most senior pharmacist and asked if he/she wanted to cover the shift.  This pharmacist had an option.

If the pharmacist said “yes”, he/she would be paid at the overtime rate of time and a half.  If the pharmacist said “no”, then I would go to the next senior person.

Then this pharmacist had an option.  He/she could say “yes” or “no”. If this pharmacist said “no” then I’d work my way through the seniority sequence.  Each pharmacist would have the option to work.

If they all said “no”, then the least senior pharmacist would have no choice.  This pharmacist would be forced to work to cover the sick call shift.

There was a particular pharmacist, who happened to be the least senior pharmacist.  For whatever reason, she was not very well liked by the other pharmacists.  I never knew why.

One day, the evening pharmacist called in sick.  I went through the entire security sequence asking each pharmacist if they wanted to cover the shift.  They all said “no”. I approached the female pharmacist and told her she had no choice.  She had to cover the evening shift.  She was quite upset, because she had plans that evening.

Normally, I wouldn’t have cared.  I needed coverage and she had to cover the shift.  But I took pity on her.

Together, we approached each pharmacist and had her plead her case.  She told them about her plans.  We appealed to their sense of compassion and literally begged each of them to work.  They all refused.  The female pharmacist had to cancel her plans and cover the evening shift sick call.

But it didn’t end there.  The female pharmacist worked the following day and she was exhausted.  After all, she had worked 16 hours the evening before.  And on this following day, the same thing happened.  The evening pharmacist called in sick again.

I knew what was going to happen as I went through the seniority sequence.  I asked each pharmacist if they wanted to work the sick call shift.  And I was not surprised when they all said “no”.

The female pharmacist must have realized what was happening too.  Because as soon as she found out that the evening pharmacist called in sick, she requested permission to go to employee health.  I do not know what she told employee health.  Nor do I know what mysterious illness she claimed she had.  But employee health was going to send her home.  Thus, she could not be forced to cover the evening sick call shift.

Ironically, once she was  no longer involved in the seniority sequence, three pharmacists volunteered to work the evening sick call shift.  Obviously, I chose the most senior one to work.

As I previously stated, I know the importance of seniority as expressed in the contract.  But for union members to mistreat their fellow union members by using the seniority rule is atrocious.  As a manager, I wish I had another method to provide coverage for sick call.  But unfortunately I didn’t.

Assigning The Holidays

The contract  provided nine paid holidays throughout the year.  They were

  1. New Year’s Day

  2. Martin Luther King’s Birthday

  3. Presidents Day

  4. Good Friday

  5. Memorial Day

  6. Independence Day

  7. Labor Day

  8. Thanksgiving

  9. Christmas

Employees could either be scheduled off for these holidays and paid for the day.  Or they could work and receive time and a half pay and get a day off for working the holiday.

As the pharmacy manager, it was my job to arrange coverage and schedule my staff to work on these days.  Where possible, I decided to give my staff a choice.   I divided the holidays into two categories.  Major holidays included: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Minor holidays included: Martin’s Luther King’s Birthday, Presidents Day, and Good Friday.

I gave my staff a listing of the holidays for the upcoming year.  I told them to select four major holidays and two minor holidays that they wanted to work.  I then prepared a schedule based upon their requests.  If not enough or too many holidays were selected by the staff, I used seniority to determine who would or wouldn’t work.

I was surprised.  It went well.  There were a few conflicts, however, I was able to work them out.

But there’s always one troublemaker.  The least senior pharmacist requested Martin Luther King’s Birthday and Presidents Day as the two holidays that he wanted to work.  There was no problem with Martin Luther King’s Birthday.  However, there were too many pharmacists who wanted to work on Presidents Day.  In addition, there were not enough pharmacists willing to work on Good Friday.

I asked for volunteers first— those willing to switch from Presidents Day to Good Friday.  There were no takers.  I really didn’t expect there to be any.

I had to enact the seniority rule.  I didn’t want to, but I had no choice.  The pharmacist was not very happy.  However, since he was least senior, he had to work on Good Friday.

About a week later, the pharmacist filed a grievance against me for making him work.  I knew I didn’t do anything wrong.  But I knew the game.

He cited me for making him work on a holiday that he didn’t request.  Which was true.  I needed to provide coverage for Good Friday.  There were no volunteers.  And since he was the least senior pharmacist, he had to work.

The hospital (management) and the union met and ruled against him.  They dismissed the grievance.  He had to work.

But that wasn’t the only thing that they did.  They noticed that I had separated the holidays into major and minor categories.  Both management and the union agreed that since the contract did not specify major and minor holiday categories, that I couldn’t either.

In other words, all holidays were created equal.  There were no major holidays or minor holidays— just holidays.  An employee off for a holiday would receive holiday pay.  An employee working a holiday would receive time and a half pay and a day off for the holiday.  Thus, all holidays carried the same weight.

Personally I viewed this as an unfair practice.  I could only imagine what would happen.  I envisioned that one day a person would be working Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Presidents Day, and Good Friday.  While the other person would have to work Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Both assignments would be seen as equal.  But they didn’t seem equal to me!

But the hospital and the union had decided that all holidays were the same.  And who was I to argue?

My staff realized this, too.  They recognized that there were no longer major and minor holiday categories.  They also figured that one day they would get stuck working Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, while their colleague was working Martin Luther King’s Day, Presidents Day, and Good Friday.

My staff was not too pleased with this lopsided outcome to say the least.  However since both the hospital and the union had similar interpretations of what the contract expressed, my staff found themselves powerless in their efforts.

Several months later, the pharmacist resigned. Unfortunately, the damage had been done.

For it was his grievance that forced management and the union to examine the holiday provisions in the contract.  Plus it was their interpretation and agreement to these points which would affect the staff for a long time to come.

Filling Floor Stock Lists

I liked my staff.  They were hard-working people.  And even though we had our differences, they were a good bunch of people.

I tried to be there for my staff.  I praised them and thanked them when they deserved it.  I also yelled at them, but only in private— not publicly.  I supported them and usually came down on their side.   And I never threw them under the bus.

We filled floor stock lists in my first hospital.  Nursing units would send the pharmacy their list of about 10-20 medications that they wanted as floor stock.  My staff would gather these medications together and send them to the nursing units.

Filling floor stock lists wasn’t a hard task.  Just a very time consuming one.  Especially with everything that my staff had to do.

Thus, filling floor stock lists became a low priority for my pharmacy staff.  Most of the time, it was performed after all the other tasks were completed. This really irritated the nurses because they wanted their floor stock filled first.

I knew I was the pharmacy manager and I had other things to do. But, in order to make it easier for my staff and to avoid the wrath of the nurses, I decided to help by filling floor stock lists whenever I got a chance.

I didn’t mind doing this.  I saw it as a helpful job that eased the burden of my staff.

I had been filling floor stock lists for about three months.  My staff was very appreciative.  They generally breathed a sigh of relief, when the nurses came down to pick up her meds, and saw that I had filled the floor stock list.

So I was flabbergasted to discover that one of my pharmacy techs had filed a grievance against me.

The reason for the grievance was that I was management.  And I was in violation of the union/management contract which stated that “… supervisors were prohibited from performing bargaining unit work except in emergency or non-routine but limited situations…”

It was therefore felt that if the work was excessive and the floor stock lists were not getting filled that management should hire additional union staff members to complete the tasks— rather than rely on management.

I was dumbfounded!  But I stopped filling floor stock lists.  Which was really sad.  Because I wasn’t trying to take a job away from a union employee.  I was just trying to help my very busy pharmacy staff.

But the union and management had reached an agreement.  And I wasn’t about to violate anything.  Now I knew that the chances of management hiring an additional staff person to fill floor stock lists was less than zero.  So I needed to come up with a solution so that the floor stock lists would be filled.

Which I did.  Every day, I would assign somebody (on a rotating basis) to be responsible for filling the floor stock lists.  Thus, in addition to their work, they would have to fill all the floor stock lists for that day.

I hated this solution.  So did my staff (though they hated the person who filed the grievance even more).  But there was nothing that anybody could do.  We were stuck with the decision made by the union and management.

In closing, I’ve always been a person who looks at the big picture.  I see beyond the here and now and wonder how current events might affect things in the long run.

Conversely, there are those individuals that focus on the immediate. They don’t realize how that might alter future events.  I found this especially true with my staff when it came to union matters.  They sacrificed the future for the present. And that was their biggest downfall.

Sharing is Caring

Creating Happy Pharmacists

If you really want to build the career and life that you’ve dreamed of, one where you are helping people and working in the field that you love, you need to do something different than what you’ve been doing.

Re-discover why you became a pharmacist and find your passion again.