Resolving Conflicts between Union Members

This protocol was developed for the purpose of addressing issues that arise between union members. This protocol is intended to apply to all kinds of conflict, from interpersonal disagreements to harassment, discrimination, or workplace bullying. If you think this would be helpful for the situation you face, please use it.

This protocol was developed by the union’s Discrimination and Harassment Committee, a committee open to all members, during 2018, and submitted to the Delegates Assembly for approval and adoption. It was approved by the DA on 12/5/18.

If a union member finds that they have a conflict with or complaint about a fellow union member, that member has several options:

  • Asking the Union to Host a Mediation: The union member may choose to have union representatives assist them in resolving the issue by sitting down for a mediation with the other union member.
  • Asking the Union to Intervene: The union member may choose to inform their shop’s delegates of a problem and ask the delegates to talk with the other union member.
  • Employer Complaint Process: The union member may choose to file a formal complaint using LSNYC or MFJ’s complaint process.
  • Outside Remedies: The union member may also choose to use remedies outside of the union and the employer, including but not limited to filing a charge with the EEOC or Human Rights Commission or filing a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, or pursuing other state and local non-discrimination/fair employment laws.

These options are not mutually exclusive and union members may select whichever option they prefer. Regardless of which option is selected, all union members involved are entitled to representation by the union. Under the law, the union owes a duty of representation to both an aggrieved person and to the person who has been accused.

The union strongly encourages members to come forward with harassment, discrimination, or bullying complaints as soon as they are comfortable doing so. As a union, we are committed to stopping discrimination, harassment, and bullying in our workplaces.

 

Employer Complaint Process

The union acknowledges the right of any member to approach management or to file a complaint with management in order to address these issues, regardless of whether they have attempted to resolve the matter through channels within the union. The choice to involve management does not alter the rights of either an aggrieved person or a person who has been accused to have union presence and/or representation in the future in disciplinary hearings, grievances, or arbitrations.

In the event that a union member files a complaint with management about a fellow union member, different delegates from the shop will be assigned to represent and advocate for the respective members. The delegates assigned to opposing parties will not communicate with each other about the matter in order to preserve the confidences of the member they are assisting. Should any witnesses need the assistance of a union representative, a delegate or delegates will be assigned to assist witnesses as well.

 

Union Intervention

An aggrieved party can raise problematic behavior with a union delegate without seeking to enter a formal mediation process and may choose to remain anonymous to the respondent. There may be many reasons for requesting union intervention as opposed to entering into a mediation, which may include that the behavior doesn’t affect the complainant directly but affects the general wellness of the work environment, or that engaging with the respondent would be traumatic to the complainant.

Union intervention can be appropriate in situations where, rather than resolving an interpersonal conflict, the intent is to end a specific behavior that is causing harm.

Persons interested in requesting union intervention should approach a delegate to make them aware of the situation and state what, if any, their objective is. Complainants are strongly encouraged to provide a written statement of the behavior that they witnessed or experienced, especially if they choose to remain anonymous, but are not required to do so. This will ensure that the complainant may explain the events in their own words, free of a third party’s re-interpretation in the retelling and allow the respondent an opportunity to respond directly to the complainant’s allegations. The statement will be provided to the respondent by a delegate, who will impartially seek to share the concern with said party. The respondent will be given an opportunity to respond and to provide names of others with relevant information. The delegates should ensure they have done their due diligence by meeting with the interested parties and any relevant witnesses.

To the extent that any problematic behavior is identified, the delegate(s) should make the party aware of potential disciplinary consequences that could result if the issue were brought to management at a later time. The delegate(s) should also explain that the party has the right to union representation.

 

Mediation

The mediation process is based on principles of restorative justice, which center on respect, mutual understanding, transparency, and personal accountability. The objective is to create a clear, formal process that any union member can invoke when they feel that their workplace has been made hostile by the actions of a fellow union member. It creates an institutional union process for addressing harassment, discrimination, bullying, and other toxic workplace behaviors. Rather than being punitive, one-sided, or accusatory, the mediation process seeks for the involved parties to acknowledge harm and to find a mutually-agreeable path forward. We should all be able to perform our work in a dignified environment, and mediation is one tool that can be used to restore community wellness.

What are the limitations of mediation?

  • Participation in a mediation process is voluntary. A member may choose to remove themselves at any time. Declining to participate in or choosing to withdraw from a mediation does not alter the rights of either the complainant or respondent to have union presence and/or potential representation in the future in disciplinary hearings or grievances in accordance with LSSA’s policies.
  • The role of the union is to create a space for dialogue, not to decide on the validity of any particular claims or accusations.
  • The role of the union in the union process is not to discipline or punish someone, but to cure the offending behavior and/or make the respondent aware of the potential consequences of continued offensive behavior.
  • Union member mediation is a process that is facilitated by a shop’s delegates. However, delegates may still initiate a mediation process as a complainant or have a mediation request brought to them as a respondent. There may be mediations where one or more of a shop’s delegates are unable to serve impartially. In those instances, it is the duty of the involved parties to articulate that they do not want a certain member or members involved, or for delegates to recuse themselves on matters where they have a conflict of interest, prior history, or where they cannot otherwise remain impartial.

Structure of Mediation

Starting a Mediation

The aggrieved party can approach any shop delegate to inform them that they are interested in holding a meditation. With the complainant’s permission, general information will be shared with other delegates about the pending mediation.

The complainant may select (or have chosen for them) a union delegate who will remain their primary point of contact through the rest of the process. This delegate is usually a shop member with whom the complainant feels comfortable. However, the delegate can be from another shop if so desired, or the complainant can request to be paired with a delegate from another shop if they do not feel comfortable working with any of the delegates from their own shop. This delegate will provide the member with information about the process, if desired assist them in writing a written statement, and coordinate with the other delegates.

Written Statement

The submission of a written statement by the complainant formally initiates the mediation process.

The statement may be as short as the complainant wishes. The statement could explain what the complainant witnessed or experienced from respondent, how they have been affected by this behavior or pattern of behaviors, how the work environment has been affected, and what the desired outcome of the mediation is. A physical copy of the written statement should be given or emailed to a delegate or delegates. There are otherwise no restrictions or requirements for how the statement has to be written. The complainant will be made aware the respondent may read this statement and become aware of their complaint and still choose not to engage in the mediation process.

Once this is submitted, the shop delegates (or a subset thereof) will approach the respondent to inform them that another union member has made a complaint against them, and that the complainant wishes to resolve the complaint in mediation. The respondent will be allowed to review a physical copy of the written complaint. The delegates will explain how the mediation works, and that they have the opportunity to write a response to the complaint if they choose to take part in the mediation.

  • If the respondent does not want to participate, the delegates will keep the written complaint and return it to the complainant.
  • If the respondent wants to consider taking part in the mediation, they may keep the written complaint until they have made a decision and proceed accordingly.

Written Response

If the respondent agrees to participate in the mediation, they will be given a copy of the written complaint. They will choose or be assigned a delegate who will be a point of contact in the process. That delegate will not communicate with the delegate working with the aggrieved party on any matters relating to the mediation until the mediation process is completed. The assigned delegate will serve as the point of contact for the respondent for the remainder of the process. They will work with the delegates to establish a timeline for writing a written response to the complaint, not to exceed (10) business days from the date of receipt of the complaint.

The written response may present the facts of the event from the perspective of the respondent and may seek to provide perspective for their actions or explain the intent of their actions. The purpose of the response is not to critique or demean the complaint provided in the complaint, but to respond to and possibly contextualize the event(s) or behavior. The respondent may choose to simply reaffirm the narrative presented in the complaint. The assigned delegate for the respondent may assist in writing the response.

When completed, a copy of the written response will be given to the delegates and distributed to the complainant through their assigned delegate.

Preparing for the Mediation

The mediation will be scheduled at a date and time agreeable to both parties, as coordinated through the delegates working with each party. Equal regard will be given to the constraints and availability of each party. The mediation will be scheduled within (10) business days from when the written response was submitted by the respondent.

The shop delegates will select a delegate to serve as a neutral party to facilitate the mediation.

Guiding Questions for the Mediation

The delegates will serve in a non-judgmental support capacity to hold a facilitated dialogue between the two parties based on the information they each presented in their written statements.

  • Who has been hurt and what are their needs? What is the goal of the complainant?
  • Addressing the difference between intent v. impact
  • What is the process to make things right and prevent future occurrences?

Ground Rules

  • The focus of the mediation will be on acknowledging and taking accountability for harm, even while respecting that the intent may not have been to harm.
  • Each person involved in a mediation should speak to their own experience and should not speak on behalf of other individuals who may be affecting by the same or similar behavior. “I” statements are preferable to “we” or “us” statements or abstract statements.
  • This process will work best if the parties are respectful of each other’s sensitive information.
  • The participating delegates will take every reasonable step to ensure the confidentiality of both parties and of the mediation process itself.

Resolution

  • With the assistance of the delegates, the parties will attempt to come to agreement about a future course of action that will change or end any harmful behavior and/or work to repair harm that has been done. The resolution should address mutual goals, actionable steps for reaching those goals, and, if necessary, a timeframe for doing so.
  • The agreement can be either verbal or written.
  • The parties may commit to meeting for a second time if they mutually agree that doing so would be beneficial.
  • If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the mediation process or with adherence to the resolution, they may consult with delegate(s) about their other options for addressing the problem. This does not remove the right to union presence or representation that the respondent may be entitled to as a result of the complained-of actions or incident.
  • If the respondent is not satisfied with the outcome of the mediation process, they may consult with delegate(s) about their rights as a union member if a formal complaint is made against them with management, if there is a complaint, if they face disciplinary action, if they want to grieve disciplinary action, etc. This consultation will not attempt to discourage the complainant from seeking other action if they decide it is necessary to address or intervene in harassment or discrimination.

Outside Remedies

Some members may prefer to use a mediator outside of our union. Some delegates may also not feel equipped to mediate disputes, and may wish to refer a dispute to an outside mediator who is specifically trained in mediation methods.

One organization that could be used in such cases is the NY Peace Institute (http://nypeace.org/), which offers free mediation as well as conflict coaching.

Members or delegates are encouraged to share other resources that you learn about.