In any employment relationship, unionized or not, the emergence of conflicts is an inevitable reality. However, for workers in unionized environments in Ontario, the pathway to resolution lies in the formalized mechanism of union grievances as outlined in a collective agreement. From the initiation of a complaint to its resolution, the steps involved are crucial to maintaining a healthy and harmonious work environment. Accordingly, it is vital that unionized employers have a comprehensive understanding of the grievance process to address and resolve concerns in a fair and timely manner.
This blog explores the grievance process, from the initial filing to the arbitration stage, and sheds light on the supporting legal foundations and mechanisms. It also provides unionized employers practical insights into navigating the grievance landscape.
What Is a Grievance?
Conflicts in a unionized workplace are typically addressed and resolved through the grievance process. As the Ontario Ministry of Labour explains, a grievance is a written complaint alleging that a collective agreement has been violated in some manner. A collective agreement will outline what constitutes a grievance, generally defined as a difference between the parties arising out of a complaint, dispute or alleged violation of the agreement’s interpretation, application or administration. It will also identify the parties who may file and respond to a grievance.
Some of the common issues resulting in a grievance include, but are not limited to:
- Workplace policies;
- Worker health and safety;
- Workplace conditions;
- Workforce reductions;
- Compensation structures; and
- Strike, picketing and lock-out.
Understanding Grievances and Labour Arbitrations in Ontario
Labour disputes and grievances can have significant financial implications and workplace impacts. A grievance arbitration is only pursued if the dispute is unresolved during the grievance process. As such, the arbitration will provide a final and binding decision to resolve a conflict between the unionized employer and workers (through their union). Such a process aims to resolve the dispute without causing a work stoppage.
Ontario’s Labour Relations Act requires every collective agreement to provide a mechanism through which a final and binding settlement can be determined in the event of a dispute. However, if a process is not included, section 48(2) of the Labour Relations Act sets out wording for such a mechanism that is deemed to be incorporated into the collective agreement.
Most labour arbitrations take place before the Ontario Labour Relations Board. However, some complaints must be heard by other tribunals. For example, a complaint about discrimination in the workplace is likely to fall within the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board
In most cases, the matters the Ontario Labour Relations Board hears are highly technical and involve applications where legal counsel for the employer and union lead the process. The Ontario Labour Relations Board has jurisdiction to handle a variety of applications under various pieces of legislation, including, but not limited to:
- Building Opportunities in the Skilled Trades Act;
- Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act;
- Employment Standards Act;
- Labour Relations Act; and
- Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The Arbitration Process
If a matter is not resolved during the grievance process, either party can take the dispute to arbitration. Arbitration operates like an informal court hearing, and the parties may select the arbitrator by agreement or ask for an appointment from the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development.
The arbitration process generally begins with the applicable party filing the appropriate forms. The responding party may then address the application by filing a response. The application and response must adhere to particular steps and procedures outlined by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
During the arbitration, a neutral third party will hear submissions and review evidence provided by the employer and union. Facts must either be agreed to by both parties or proved by witnesses and other documents. The arbitrator ultimately decides the outcome of the matter and issues a final, binding decision with which the parties must comply. The arbitrator must file a copy of their decision (also referred to as “awards”) with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, in accordance with the Labour Relations Act.
The Benefits of Skilled Legal Representation in Labour Arbitrations
Employers are recommended to seek proactive legal advice from a qualified labour lawyer as soon as possible in the grievance process to ensure their rights are protected and mitigate conflict escalation. Labour lawyers are indispensable allies for unionized employers who can guide their clients through the intricacies of the arbitration process and offer invaluable insights into legal precedents, collective bargaining agreements, and procedural nuances based on their legal knowledge and prior arbitration experience.
Labour lawyers also play a pivotal role in identifying, formulating and presenting compelling arguments on behalf of unionized employers during arbitration hearings. By analyzing the specific details of a dispute, labour lawyers can craft a robust strategy that aligns with the interests and goals of the employer while simultaneously adhering to the legal framework that governs labour relations and the alternative dispute resolution process.
Furthermore, a skilled labour lawyer can offer advice on compliance with labour laws, helping unionized employers navigate potential pitfalls and mitigate risks before disputes escalate to the arbitration stage. Overall, labour lawyers become strategic partners in the negotiation and arbitration processes, empowering unionized employers to assert their rights, uphold the integrity of collective agreements, and contribute to a harmonious and legally compliant workplace. By deploying a dynamic and prudent approach, unionized employers can build a strong labour relations strategy in the workplace.
Contact the Trusted Labour Lawyers at Willis Business Law in Windsor-Essex for Top-Tier Representation in Arbitration
The knowledgeable labour lawyers at Willis Business Law regularly advise unionized employers of their rights and options in labour disputes and arbitrations. Whether you require advice on workplace policies and procedures or representation in the collective bargaining process, our lawyers can help. We work with public and private sector employers throughout Windsor-Essex County and the surrounding areas to develop unique and reliable labour law solutions tailored to your needs.
To learn more about the labour law services Willis Business Law offers, contact us online or call 519-945-5470 to schedule an initial consultation with a member of our dynamic labour law group.