Try to settle at the earliest level possible
If acceptable solutions can be found as soon as problems arise in the workplace, everyone benefits.
Talk about settlement possibilities with the member before filing a grievance. The further a grievance goes in the grievance process, the longer the grievor has to wait for a decision and the more disenfranchised the grievor and the membership can become.
Effective problem solving in the early stages is the goal of the union. In most cases, this is also the goal of the employer. Try to resolve the matter with management as early as possible, keeping in mind that a good settlement is one that is better or as good as one achieved through arbitration.
Throughout the entire process, discuss all settlement proposals and offers with the member and record a summary of each conversation for the file.
Grievances can set precedents
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.
Watch out for the unexpected, unintended results a grievance may have. Weigh or consider the effect the grievance, if won, might have on all the workers – the bargaining unit as a whole. A grievance that is good for one worker, if successful, might sometimes set a bad precedent for the union over the interpretation of a part of the collective agreement.
Deciding not to proceed with a grievance
Before deciding not to proceed, it is always wise to get advice. If it is clear that there are no grounds for a grievance, or that a grievance will not be pursued at a particular level, provide a detailed explanation to the member and document the reasons and the process of decision-making (i.e., Grievance Committee / Executive Board met on such-and-such a date, etc.).
If you can help the member in other ways, make the offer. Be sure to advise the member if it is a situation where she/he can proceed without union assistance, and of appeal procedures within the union to have the decision reviewed. See the section on “Duty of Fair Representation” in this Pocket Guide before deciding not to proceed with a grievance (page 123).
Take special care when human rights principles are at stake
All complaints or grievances of members of the bargaining unit should be handled with the utmost care and attention. However, in cases involving human rights, the bar is even higher. In addition to our duty of fair representation (DFR) obligations (see page 123), there are also legal obligations related to both employment and human rights law. Unions have been held to a higher standard of care in discharging DFR obligations when human rights principles are at issue. We need to exercise even greater sensitivity than would normally be necessary; we need to be more proactive or attentive than usual; and we need to take an extra measure of care or assertiveness. Sometimes it even requires involving additional resource people and processes to ensure we fully advocate on the members’ behalf.
Remember: not all human rights issues present themselves at the start of a grievance. Be open to the idea that a human rights dimension to a problem may come to light as the investigation proceeds.
Withdrawing a grievance
If you decide to withdraw a grievance, but you do not want the withdrawing of the grievance to set a bad precedent, be sure to write on the grievance that it is being withdrawn “without prejudice and precedence”.
See the section on “Duty of Fair Representation” in this Guide before deciding to withdraw a grievance.
When a grievance is resolved
De-brief with the grievor. Don’t underestimate how much they have learned through the process. Make sure that you take the time to de-brief it with them so that what they take away from the experience is accurate and helps build the union (share your interpretation of events with them, and ask for theirs).
Celebrate. When you’ve done your best, take time to celebrate. If the grievance has been successfully resolved, share the outcome with the membership (unless you’re prevented from doing so for reasons of confidentiality or the terms of settlement).
Evaluate and learn. Keep notes on problems that arise with current contract wording. Make notes on changes to propose in the next round of bargaining. Evaluate your approaches to interviews, file preparation, writing grievances and other aspects of grievance handling. With each grievance or complaint, identify what you could have done differently to achieve better outcomes. Identify your strengths and areas you’d like to develop.
Stay in touch with the grievor. Check back in with them a few weeks or months after the fact to see how things are going. If you have built a good relationship with them, and if they have learned about the union and feel positive about their experience (whether or not you won the grievance), they may be someone you can encourage to get involved in the union. Filing a grievance is how lots of us got started as union activists.