Union Grievances

Union Grievances

Unions were created to help workers negotiate their rights with employers. As a collective group, unions have more bargaining power than individual workers and they use this to seek higher wages and benefits as well as better working conditions for their members. Employees can then enforce these rights under collective bargaining agreements with the support of the union. However, employees with workplace disputes should still consult an experienced employment attorney to ensure they understand all their legal options, including those that may not fall under a union contract. Employers also should have skilled legal counsel in dealing with any matter potentially involving unions.

What Is a Grievance?

A grievance is an employee complaint that the employer violated the worker’s rights under the law, pursuant to a contract, or as set forth in the employer’s workplace policies and procedures. In a union workplace, a grievance generally involves the employer’s breach of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Both individuals and groups of employees can file a grievance. Common examples of grievances include disputes involving the payment of wages, unsafe working conditions, changing job duties, improper disciplinary actions, and other issues. However, not every conflict in the workplace is “grievable.”

Typically, unions have their own procedures regarding when and how employees can file grievances and how they will be resolved. Most employers also have a grievance procedure stating how employees can make a complaint and what steps the employer will take in response. The union and employer policies must be followed, as discussed in the next section.

What Should Employees Do If Their Employer is Violating a Union Contract?

The first step for employees is to review their collective bargaining agreement to determine whether their issue is grievable and understand the applicable grievance procedures. These include such actions employees must take prior to filing a grievance and the steps and deadlines for filing. Employees who believe they have a valid grievance should gather relevant evidence and contact their direct supervisor, union representative and/or other designated official. Generally, the grievance must be done in writing within a specific timeframe after the alleged acts occurred.

Union Procedures for Filing a Grievance

Generally, labor unions have strict procedures for filing grievances. The specifics may vary by company and union, but there are basic similarities. Employees must file a complaint with their union representative or other designated official who, in turn, will complete and submit a form to the union.

Typically, company management and the union will review the matter to determine whether a valid grievance exists, and if so, whether it has been resolved. If the grievance has not been resolved, the complaint is escalated to the next stage. Unresolved grievances may go to higher levels of company management and higher-level union representatives to settle the matter. If it still cannot be resolved, the matter usually goes to mediation or arbitration. Complaints which are not resolved may require a hearing with the state Office of Labor Relations prior to arbitration.

How Should Employees Handle Non-Contractual Grievances?

All employers should have written grievance procedures to inform employees of the complaint process. Regardless of whether a complaint relates to a contract violation, employees should review and follow these rules to ensure they protect their rights. Both sides should clearly document the details of the complaint, relevant evidence, and what actions were taken. An attorney should also be consulted if the matter cannot be quickly resolved.

While notifying a union representative may not be required in non-contractual grievances, there are benefits to speaking to the representative. The union may provide various benefits and support to workers including programs to assist workers with mediation, discounted legal services or helpful referrals.


Unions help protect employees in many workplace conflicts.  However, workers must take care to follow union procedures in a timely manner to avoid losing their rights and harming their case.  Employees should also consider contacting an experienced attorney to assist with grievances.



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