By Jorge Talbott, LL.B.
Often, when I
deliver training to new managers, a question arises as to how to reply to a
grievance launched by an individual employee. Generally, managers begin to
write a reply directly to the employee, and ask me, “Should I c.c. the shop
stewards?” This is a mistake, and it arises from a failure to understand
that in a unionized workplace there are no employees.
To repeat: there
are no individual employees in a unionized workplace. Admittedly, this is a
simplified idea, but it assists new managers in understanding union
correspondence. To diagram the idea:
One should first
notice that “employees” are not on this diagram. Essentially, there is one
employee—the union—that the employer must negotiate with, talk to, and
assign work to. So, where do the employees come in? They are called union
members, and have a relationship with their union governed by contract,
local labour laws, and the union’s by-laws. Thus:
wonder how to respond to grievances that are signed by both a grievor and a
shop steward. Should the grievor be copied? Should the reply be written to
the Union? The grievor?
indicates that since a grievance claims a violation of the collective
agreement, and there are only two parties to a collective agreement—the
union and management—the grievance is “owned” by the union. Therefore, all
replies must be addressed to the union, unless the collective agreement
How to Not to Reply to Grievances
The idea that
there are no employees in a unionized shop often produces strange
first-person- and third-person perspective conflicts in correspondence.
Consider this grievance:
told me that I had to work tonight. I am the most senior employee, and you
must first request the least senior employees work before coming to me. You
have violated Article 12 re Staffing.
Judy the Grievor and Punch the Shop Steward
Bob should not
reply to the grievance by writing back to Judy directly and addressing her
in the first person. There is one employee, and it is called the Union.
Thus, the reply should read,
To: Punch the Shop Steward, c/o The United
Workers of the World, Local 123.
Punch the Shop Steward:
Grievance 001-01: Judy the Grievor
noted grievance is denied. Bob was unable to approach other staff because they
were all home after calling in sick. Therefore, the grievance is denied.
Should the Grievor be Copied?
grievor be copied on these replies? The answer turns on the practice
established in the workplace or in the collective agreement. If there is
any doubt, simply write the shop stewards, and allow them to deliver
messages to their membership. This will avoid claims that the employer is
refusing to recognize the union as the exclusive bargaining agent of its
Talbott, LL.B., is a labour lawyer, consultant, and founder of the Ottawa
firm, Labour Relations
Consultants. He was formerly Director of
Human Resources for a unionized, national non-profit organization. His contact information is given below.