What do I do if my union won’t advance my grievance?achkarlaw-admin
When you are working under a collective agreement (i.e. in a unionized workplace), the grievance process outlined in the collective agreement is the primary avenue for addressing concerns and ensuring your voice is heard. This process allows you to attempt to resolve problems through your union.
Since unions serve as the exclusive platform for unionized employees to seek assistance for most of their issues, if the union declines to pursue a grievance, the person raising the concern may become concerned that their issue will not be addressed. In such situations, it might appear as though they have limited options for seeking legal assistance.
However, there are alternatives available if your union refuses to address or listen to your grievance through the standard procedures. This article provides advice on how to proceed when you find yourself in a challenging situation while dealing with your union.
What Is a Union Grievance?
A union grievance is a formal complaint or dispute raised by an employee or a group of employees who are part of a labour union. This complaint typically relates to a violation or misinterpretation of the terms and conditions outlined in a collective bargaining agreement or collective agreement, which is a legally binding contract negotiated between the union and the employer.
The purpose of a union grievance is to provide a mechanism for employees to address workplace issues, such as alleged violations of employment rights, contractual obligations, workplace safety concerns, or unfair treatment. When an employee believes that their rights under the collective agreement have been violated or that they have been treated unjustly, they can file a grievance through their union.
The union grievance process typically involves a series of formal steps, including filing the grievance with the employer, investigating the matter, and potentially going through mediation or arbitration to resolve the dispute. The ultimate goal is to find a fair and equitable resolution to the issue in accordance with the terms of the collective agreement.
There are several different types of grievances:
These grievances are brought by the union because the management of their company has breached the collective agreement in regards to an individual grievor. The management might have overstepped by inappropriately disciplining, harassing, demoting, or denying the rights or benefits of that employee.
These grievances are brought by the union on behalf of a group of employees who feel that their rights have collectively been violated. Once again, these rights can come from multiple sources. In order to be included in a group grievance, interested members need to sign on.
A policy grievance is a grievance presented by the union to the company’s management about a workplace rule or policy that affects all the members or employees who work for them. A good example is a union challenging the reasonableness of a random drug testing policy – it is a challenge to the rules of the workplace, not to a specific action toward a particular employee.
Grievances are important because when an employee is unionized, they do not have the option of bringing their employers to court over an issue. In order to get a problem addressed as a unionized employee, it must be through a grievance advanced by their union.
Does My Union Owe Me a Duty?
Under collective bargaining statutes in Canada, unions owe the employees covered by their collective agreement a “duty of fair representation”. This does not mean that they have to advance every grievance or represent all their members in every claim, but they are required to investigate the claims brought to them. They are also required to make decisions in a fair manner that gives each member fair representation, meaning that decisions not to pursue a claim cannot be made in bad faith or for arbitrary reasons.
Why Might a Union Refuse to Address a Grievance?
There are situations where a union may decide not to advance a grievance. Sometimes, they may decide that the allegation made by the “grievor” is not a breach of the collective agreement, is not supported by strong enough evidence, or is not something they are willing to represent.
Unions may also conclude that they would be out of time to advance the grievance. Most collective agreements have clauses about when grievances must be presented. There may be an expiration date as to when members can bring a grievance forward about a particular issue, especially if they have left their job.
If a member’s grievance is not advanced, they should speak to their union about why it was denied. If that member feels that their grievance was not fairly represented, they may be able to look into other solutions.
What Are My Options?
If a union member feels that their union has not met its duty to fairly represent them, they can speak to a lawyer about gaining representation to try to encourage their union to meet that duty. This can be done by sending a demand letter to the union that outlines their duty to represent that union member, and indicate that that member will take legal action if they are not represented.
By hiring outside representation in the form of a lawyer, union member can increase their likelihood of receiving assistance from their union. A lawyer can help that union member get the justice that they deserve, even if it is not through the court system.
When employees are unionized, complaints about their workplace, management, and treatment must all go through their union in the form of grievances. If a union will not go forward with a grievance from a member, that member may feel that they have not received the justice that they deserve, and they may feel that their hands are tied when trying to have their problem dealt with.
However, if a union member feels that their union is not meeting their duty of representation, they can hire a lawyer to send a demand letter, encouraging their union to listen to their grievance and meet their duty.
If you are a union member with a problem that you feel has not been dealt with by your union, make sure to reach out to the qualified team at Achkar Law for help.
If you are an employee with questions about unions and grievances, our team of experienced labour lawyers at Achkar Law can help.