Navigating Workplace Grievances for Union Employees

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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 to inform the employer of 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, if the Union and the employer are unable to reach a mutually acceptable resolution for the grievance, then the grievance will be referred to arbitration.

Arbitration is a process where an arbitrator, who has been mutually appointed by the Union and the Employer, serves as the decision-maker and decides the issue in dispute between the parties, much like a judge would in Court.

What can be grieved?

A grievance can be filed for various types of issues, but most grievances are filed on the basis that the employer has breached a provision of the collective agreement, or legislation, while dealing with an employee or a group of employees.

If an employee is unsure whether a concern of theirs can be grieved, they should first review the terms of their collective agreement, and then speak with a Union Representative to determine whether a grievance can be filed against the employer.

Why are grievances important?

Grievances are important because, depending on the nature of the issue the employee may have, it may be the only available option for the employee to seek a remedy for their concerns.

For instance, if an employee believes their human rights have been violated, they can address it by filing a grievance or, in some cases, by filing a human rights complaint with the relevant provincial or federal authority. However, the grievance process is the sole option for employees to address a breach of their rights as outlined in the collective agreement. This includes matters like pay, benefits, promotional opportunities, to name a few.

What is the risk of not grieving my issue?

If individuals fail to raise a grievable issue through the formal grievance process, they could find themselves in a situation where they have no available options for seeking a resolution. This means they may not be able to obtain a remedy for unjust termination or unfair treatment they have experienced.

It’s really important for an employee to raise their concerns about the terms and conditions of their employment as soon as possible by speaking with their union representative or shop steward and bringing their concerns to the union’s attention in order to resolve the issues through the grievance process.

If they fail to file a grievance, they may be left in a situation where they won’t be able to do that at a later point as the time limits for doing so, as outlined in the collective agreement, has expired. In some cases, the employee’s failure to address a concern in a timely manner may even impact their future rights and have ramifications for their career later on.

How do I submit a grievance?

An employee who wishes to file a grievance should first review their collective agreement to see whether they can file the grievance on their own, or whether the grievance must be filed by a representative of the Union, like a Shop Steward or a Business Agent.

If the provisions of the collective agreement are not clear, the employee should consult with their Shop Steward or other Union Representative as soon as possible. The Shop Steward is a union representative who is also an employee and a member of the bargaining unit, who can help the employee with understanding their rights and obligations under the collective agreement.

What happens once a grievance is submitted?

Once a grievance is submitted, the union and the employer engage in informal discussions to try to resolve the grievance. These discussions are typically organized into levels or steps, depending on whether the discussions are happening with the employee’s supervisor, manager, or members of upper management.

The last step in any grievance process is the referral of the grievance to arbitration. However, employees should be aware that the decision of whether a grievance should be referred to arbitration or withdrawn is up to the Union. That is why it is important for the employer to cooperate with the union during the grievance discussions and provide all information that supports the employees’ position so that the Union is fully informed of the strengths of the employee’s case before deciding on how to proceed with the grievance.

Once a grievance is filed, who gets to decide how far it goes?

As noted earlier, the Union has carriage of the grievance and has the discretion to decide how to deal with the grievance. However, the Union also has a legal duty under the applicable labour relations legislation to represent the employees in a fair, non-arbitrary, and non-discriminatory manner.

DISCLAIMER: The content of this article, and this website generally, is not intended as legal advice and cannot be relied upon as legal advice.  To provide legal advice on your problem, a lawyer must first understand your specific situation.

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