In Grievance Corner

1. What are complaints and grievances?

The process for handling complaints and grievances is described in Article 10 of the Collective Agreement.

  • A “complaint” is “a disagreement which may lead to a grievance.”
  • A “grievance” is “any difference that arises between the Parties relating to the interpretation, application, administration or alleged violation of this Agreement, including any question as to whether a matter is arbitrable.”

This document addresses matters involving individual members of the Brock University Faculty Association, although both the University and BUFA are entitled to file a policy grievance that involves “a question of general application or interpretation” of the collective agreement.

Any time a member has an inquiry or complaint, no matter how insignificant it might seem, about the terms and conditions of work at Brock, it is best to discuss this with a BUFA representative when it arises. Everyone who deals with a member’s issue will handle it with discretion. Only those who need to know about the matter will be informed about it, and reports about it to others will be anonymized.

Of course, not every complaint will be found to be a violation of a member’s legal and contractual rights at work and not every complaint can be resolved to a member’s completesatisfaction.

It is very important for a member to raise an issue at the earliest opportunity and to contact BUFA about the matter as soon as possible. After a matter has been raised, there are tight timelines for having discussions, reaching a resolution, or advancing the issue to the next stage.

2. Who represents members during the process?

Members are not alone in their efforts to get their questions answered and their complaints resolved. A BUFA representative is available to provide assistance and representation during informal discussions to resolve a complaint.

After a matter has become grievable, it is BUFA, as one of the two Parties to the Collective Agreement, that can file a grievance on behalf of a member, it is BUFA that can settle a grievance, and a BUFA rep is required to be present at all grievance meetings. BUFA has a duty to represent each member fairly throughout the complaint and grievance process, and an obligation to protect the collective agreement and the rights of all members of the bargaining unit.

It is possible for an issue to arise between two BUFA members. For example, an issue may arise between a department head and a department member, or between two members of the same department. If so, BUFA has a responsibility to represent both members fairly and BUFA has procedures in place to ensure that this is done.

3. How can a member get assistance to deal with a complaint?

BUFA members may contact anyone in the BUFA office or the BUFA President for referral to a BUFA rep. For relatively simple issues, a phone call or short email may be sufficient to start the process. For more complex issues, it may be helpful for a member to prepare a more detailed description of the issue.

4. Who assists a BUFA member?

The BUFA office staff will either provide answers to members’ questions directly or, after consultation with the BUFA President, refer the questions to others in BUFA including the Health and Safety Officer or the Grievance Officer, for example.

Complaints and grievances are referred to the Grievance Officer and, through the Grievance Officer, to a member of the Grievance Panel to provide assistance. Certain matters including issues raised by applicants in the Tenure and Promotion process or by complainants or respondents under the RWLEP Policy are referred to the Assistant Grievance Officer and, through the Assistant Grievance Officer, to members of the Grievance Panel to provide assistance.

The Grievance Panel is a standing committee of the BUFA Executive that is broadly representative of the bargaining unit. The members of the Grievance Panel include the President and Vice-President of BUFA (ex officio), the BUFA Grievance Officer and Assistant Grievance Officer, and other bargaining unit members appointed by the BUFA Executive. The members of the Grievance Panel are trained, knowledgeable and ready to assist members with their questions, complaints, and grievances. The Panel operates under Terms of Reference approved by the Executive and the relevant provisions of the BUFA By-Laws. It meets at least monthly to review, discuss and make recommendations on all active matters. In assisting BUFA members, the members of the BUFA Grievance Panel have access to all the resources that BUFA provides including provincial and national networks of Faculty Association Grievance Officers and to BUFA’s legal counsel as required.

5. What is the process for resolving complaints and grievances?

The informal complaint process: Under the Collective Agreement, a member must commence informal discussions to resolve a complaint within 15 working days (usually 3 weeks) of finding out about the problem, and then 15 working days are provided for informal discussions of the matter unless BUFA and the Administration agree to extend the time. After 15 working days of informal discussions, an unresolved matter becomes grievable.

There are two stages in the formal Grievance Procedure followed by a final stage of Arbitration.

Stage 1: A formal, written grievance must be filed within 10 working days of the matter becoming grievable. Within 10 working days of filing, representatives of the Parties must meet to attempt to resolve the matter. A written response to the grievance is required within 10 working days of that meeting. If the matter is not resolved, the grievance must be submitted to Stage 2 within 10 working days of receipt of the written response.

Stage 2: Within 10 working days of receipt at Stage 2, representatives of the Parties must meet again to attempt to resolve the matter. Another written response to the grievance is required within 10 working days of that meeting. If the matter is not resolved, the grievance may be submitted to Arbitration within 10 working days of receipt of the written response at Stage 2.

Arbitration: The Parties have agreed that an arbitration hearing will be before a single arbitrator selected from a list of arbitrators that is set out in the collective agreement. The Arbitrator controls the arbitration process within some broad guidelines set out in Article 10 in the Collective Agreement and in the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

During the grievance and arbitration process, BUFA and the Administration conduct independent investigations to gather the facts, identify the issues, and determine which, if any, provisions of the collective agreement, relevant policies or past practices, or employment laws they think have been violated.

Because of the costs and significance for BUFA of the arbitration process, it is the BUFA Executive that makes the final decision, on the recommendations of the Grievance Officer and the Grievance Panel, about referring a grievance to arbitration. The arbitration process is a quasi-judicial process that can be technical, expensive and lengthy. It ensures, however, that, if a matter cannot be resolved internally, then a final and binding decision will be made by a neutral third-party arbitrator.

6. What are the possible outcomes of a grievance?

Once a grievance has been filed, it is processed under the provisions of the collective agreement until it is abandoned, settled by the parties, or a final and binding decision has been made by an arbitrator — even an arbitrator’s decision is subject to review by the courts for a limited number of reasons such as failure to provide due process or an error of law. Settlement discussions can and do occur at each and every stage of the grievance and arbitration process. It is always better for those involved in a disagreement to reach a settlement that they can live with at the earliest possible time than to have an Arbitrator make a decision for them.

In summary, the grievance and arbitration process can be lengthy, expensive, frustrating, and emotionally draining. However, BUFA provides assistance and representation for a member through this process at no cost to the member and the process provides a mechanism to reach a final and binding result for every disagreement that arises during the term of a collective agreement.

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