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Steward Notes: What can I grieve, anyway? 

By Mimi Williams, Communications Staff

Mar 29, 2023

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Our bosses often treat us poorly. But not everything can be dealt with through your collective agreement. 

When a member feels like they have been mistreated or that their rights at work have been infringed upon, they will often reach out to their Union Steward or Membership Services Officer to file a grievance. 

However, a grievance can only be filed if there has been a violation of the collective agreement, federal or provincial legislation, or a clear violation of the employer’s policy or established past practice.  

Even if you find a clear-cut violation of the collective agreement, you should usually try to solve a problem before resorting to the grievance process. Indeed, most collective agreements make you try resolving the situation informally with management first. 

However, there is almost always a deadline for filing a grievance after having an informal conversation with management. Be sure to talk to your Membership Services Officer to ensure you meet important grievance timelines. 

Sometimes you can grieve an issue even if it is not covered by the collective agreement. For example, you could file a grievance if the employer suddenly cuts a longstanding benefit that it previously provided as a matter of policy. 

Lastly, a grievance may be an option when a member alleges the employer broke a provincial or federal law. If you find yourself in this situation, reach out to your Membership Services Officer for advice immediately. 

When an issue is not a violation of the collective agreement, law, past precedence, or workplace policy, it does not mean that you are out of options. Not all complaints can be resolved through the grievance procedure. There may be other avenues to pursue justice, such as a Respectful Workplace Policy, if your employer has one. 

AUPE members can try several other tactics to resolve workplace issues. 

Labour Management Committees 

Many worksites have Labour Management Committees, which are sometimes also called Employee-Management Advisory Committees (EMACs), Employee Relations Committees (ERCs), or Union Management Committees (UMCs). 

These committees bring workers and management together to discuss worksite issues that are of concern to both sides. Representatives on the committees can discuss issues not covered by the collective agreement before they become a bigger problem. 

Health & Safety Committees 

Workers and Union Stewards can also report workplace issues to the Health and Safety Committee (HSC). 

The provincial government made some regressive changes to Occupational Health and Safety with Bill 47. Nevertheless, your worksite committee may function well above the legal minimum, so it is important to review your Health and Safety Committees Terms of Reference. You should also familiarize yourself with your collective agreement articles related to Health and Safety. 

Direct Action 

For widely felt issues that cannot be resolved by the above tactics, Union Stewards might want to try direct action. Direct action includes solidarity and confrontational tactics, such as wearing union stickers, wearing the same-coloured shirts on a certain day of the week, or organizing a March on the Boss. The possibilities are endless. AUPE’s Organizing department is always ready to help you plan direct action at your workplace. 

Role of the Union Steward 

At the end of the day, your role as a Union Steward is to try to resolve problems members are facing at work. Filing a grievance is one important method of dealing with worksite issues, but it is important work with your members and your Membership Services Officers to explore every option at your disposal.  

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