Also read: 5 Reasons Why Your Workplace Needs to Unionize
What Every Union Member Needs to Know, part 1
What is a collective agreement?
A collective agreement is essentially a contract that is negotiated by unions and employers that contains the terms and conditions of employment for a group of employees. The Collective Agreement will outline the rights and obligations of the employer, the Union, and the employees during the course of the employment relationship between those parties. Not all collective agreements are the same, since the terms of each collective agreement are a direct result of negotiations between the union and the employer. Therefore, each collective agreement can be unique and provide employees with rights that other collective agreement may not have anticipated or provided for. That is why it is very important for employees to familiarize themselves with their collective agreement and spend time reviewing and understanding their rights and obligations under this contract.
If I were going to look at one thing in my Collective Agreement, which provision do you recommend that I should review?
Firstly, I should say that it is important for employees to make themselves familiar with the entirety of their collective agreement, and not just one or two provisions. One of the most important provision with which employees should be familiar is the provision dealing with the grievance process. This provision outlines things like whether the employee can file the grievance on their own, or whether it has to be filed by the Union; to which member of management should the grievance be presented; and what the overall grievance process will look like so that they know what to anticipate. The grievance provisions will also contain another important term, the one dealing with the time limits for filing a grievance. Pretty much all collective agreements provide a specific time limit for an employee, or the Union, to file a grievance. Sometimes it is as short as a few days and other times it can be as long as a whole month. Regardless, the onus lies on the employee to ensure that they approach their union about a concern in a timely manner so that they are not out of time for pursuing a grievance should they wish to do so. If the employee or the Union file a grievance outside of the time limit provided in the collective agreement, the employer may take the position that the grievance is out of time and, therefore, they are not obligated to resolve it as it was not filed in compliance with the terms of the collective agreement. Of course, under those circumstances, the employee will be left without a remedy or a resolution for the concern that they had.
What is a grievance?
A grievance is a complaint that is filed by the employee directly or by the Union on behalf of an employee in order to bring to the employer’s attention a breach of the employee’s rights under a collective agreement or under legislation. Typically, the grievance process is outlined in the collective agreement and includes different steps, with the final step of the process being the referral of the grievance to arbitration. The steps in the grievance process, leading up to arbitration, is intended to provide the Union and the Employer an opportunity to discuss the basis for the grievance and to informally resolve it, without having to refer the matter to arbitration. However, in the event that the Union and the Employer are unable to reach a mutually acceptable resolution for the grievance, then the grievance will be referred to an arbitrator who has been mutually appointed by the Union and the Employer.
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