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Do I Have a Grievance?

In labor relations, a "grievance" means something very specific: a problem arising from the employer's violation of a specific term of the collective bargaining agreement.

Most collective bargaining agreements will have a detailed procedure for identifying what a grievance is, and what the union must do if it wants to bring the grievance to dispute resolution.

Always keep in mind that grievances arise from the application, meaning, or interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement.

If there's a right, there's a remedy Hurt feelings, fights among co-workers, and perceived slights by supervisors or co-workers that don't involve contractual rights are not usually subjects of a grievance.

For example, if a union member perceives that she has been bypassed for promotion because her supervisor doesn't like her, then there's probably no grievance.

But, regardless of the supervisor's feelings toward that union member, if the member has been bypassed in violation of a hiring preference described in the collective bargaining agreement, then there's likely a grievance.

Take it step-by-step

We advise our clients to apply a five-step process when evaluating if they have a grievance:

  1. What specific contract provision or provisions do you think the employer has violated?

  2. What does that contractual provision say?

  3. What specific actions did the employer take that conflict with the specific language of that contractual provision?

  4. Has that provision been grieved before? What was the outcome?

  5. Is the grievance timely?

Grievances vs. Improper Practices

Another tricky question will arise when the dispute touches on issues under the jurisdiction of the Public Employment Relations Board ("PERB").

Under New York's Taylor Law, PERB is in charge of making sure that public employers negotiate with their unions concerning terms and conditions of employment.

If the dispute only concerns specific terms defined under the parties' collective bargaining agreement, then PERB does not have authority to resolve the dispute.

But, if the parties have never set down their rules on the issue in their collective bargaining agreement, then PERB may be the right place to bring the dispute for a hearing.

What if I get it wrong?

The consequences of poorly-drafted grievances, late grievances, or disputes filed in the wrong forum, can be heavy. Employers can have grievances dismissed on technical grounds, and the union never gets the chance to resolve the issue to its satisfaction. That's why unions have trusted the Labor Group at Bartlo, Hettler, Weiss & Tripi for decades to guide them through this complicated process.

Stay tuned for more guidance on how the grievance process can work for you.

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