What is a grievance?

The term grievance refers to a written statement made according to the grievance procedure included in the collective agreement. It deals with any dispute concerning the interpretation, the application, the administration or the alleged violation of any clause of the collective agreement.

The purpose of the grievance procedure

The grievance procedure is at the heart of the collective agreement. It allows the union steward to draw up a grievance on behalf of members. It is a recognition by the employer that members have the right to be heard by management.

The procedure can have two to four steps. At each step, representatives of the union and the employer meet. Make sure you know the time limits for each step of the procedure.

When a case is settled through a grievance, it can serve as a precedent, or a model on which the merits of similar cases will be assessed in the future. Precedents are usually very important because they establish how the union and the employer will interpret the collective agreement from then on.

The grievance investigation

Gather the facts from the member who has a complaint. The steward must listen closely to the member who comes with a problem. Get all the facts. Make sure you give the member enough time to give you all the relevant information.

Take notes. Ask questions.

Use the CEP investigation form.

At times, a member takes it for granted that you know his or her work well and forgets to tell you important details. To avoid this, follow the five W’s method.

Who is involved?

Name of member or group of members. The employee’s number classification, work station, etc.

What is involved?

Unpaid hours? A violation of seniority rights? Discrimination? Overtime?

When did it happen?

The required information included the official date of the grievance, the date of the incident that led to the grievance, the date of the submission of the grievance and the employer’s response. Make note of all the important dates related to the incident.

Where did it happen?

Describe as clearly as possible the case history and where it took place. Indicate the shop, the machine, the purpose, the plant, etc.

Why did it happen?

The fundamental reason for the grievance. This question is the key to the grievance, so it must be clearly expressed.

The investigation form

Whenever you collect information, use the required investigation form. Why?

  • You can forget things.
  • When facts are laid out in black and white, it is easier to determine the merits of the case.
  • When the grievance is completed, you have a file that can be used as a precedent for similar grievances in the future.
  • The investigation report can be used by the negotiating committee when the time comes to renew the collective agreement.

The difference between winning and losing a grievance can depend on the thoroughness of the information you have collected. When you write your report, remember that others will have to refer to it.

The investigation report can always be used as proof to the members of the work you and the union have done for them.

Is the grievance well-founded?

It is best to have a thorough discussion with the member before determining whether the grievance is well-founded.

If in doubt, consult other stewards as well as union leaders. They can help you make a decision.

Do not proceed with grievances that are not well-founded. A member may believe he or she has a grievance because of a misunderstanding of the collective agreement. Personality conflicts or a misreading of the collective agreement are not legitimate grievances. Agreeing to lodge this type of grievance may mislead the member and undermine your credibility with the employer. If you are sure that there isn’t a valid grievance, tell the member, explain why and show him or her the section of the collective agreement that supports your argument. Be firm but be tactful in order to keep the member’s trust.

The wording of the grievance

Once you have determined that you are dealing with a legitimate grievance, make sure to word it properly. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Obtain the appropriate grievance form.
  • Include all the details required on the form.
  • Define the nature of the grievance, use the least number of words possible and ask for the help of your chief steward if necessary.
  • State clearly the expected outcome. If a financial settlement is involved, do not forget to claim interest.
  • Date the document and have the employee sign it. Do not forget to sign it yourself.
  • Submit it to management within the required time limits.

Should the member attend the grievance hearing?

Always take the member with you, except in special circumstances, e.g. if a member threatens to attack the supervisor.

If you go to see management alone, the member may believe that the grievance was not presented properly and could end up blaming you unjustly.

Together, you can present a better prepared and more detailed case. Before meeting with the employer, the member should be warned that the steward will talk on his or behalf. The member should only respond to questions that are asked by the steward.

Discourage members from presenting grievances on their own. A member who is not familiar with the collective agreement could be easily influenced and decide to drop the grievance or accept a settlement that would weaken the collective agreement.

In summary

To best analyze the facts, talk less and listen carefully. Communication is a two-way street.
Let the employer make his own case.
Do not let anyone sidetrack you. Stick to the question in dispute.
Avoid tit-for-tat bargaining on grievances.
Avoid personality conflicts. Do not provoke or ridicule the employer.
Do not lose your temper. Create a climate of mutual respect and avoid making threats.
Do not get involved in discussions of personal issues.
Consult other stewards or union representatives.
Keep the member informed of the outcome of the grievance.