Grievance arbitration is the method used to resolve workplace disputes in unionized workplaces.

In a unionized workplace, the relevant collective agreement governs the relationship between workers and management. Grievances often arise about the interpretation of a collective agreement or where an agreement is silent on an important issue. Where a collective agreement is silent, an arbitrator will follow past arbitration decisions involving similar issues.

Unlike a dispute in the courts, grievance arbitrators are selected by the union and management (usually on the advice of their lawyers) to hear a given case. Although a panel of three arbitrators is sometimes selected, it is more common for a dispute to be heard and decided by a single arbitrator.

When an employee is working in a unionized position and has a dispute with their employer, he/she should contact the local union to discuss the issue. If the issue cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of the employee and employer, it is typically within the union’s discretion to refer the matter to arbitration. If the union decides to refer the matter to arbitration, the union is responsible for representing the employee and presenting his/her case before the arbitrator.

As the representative of employees in the bargaining unit, a union has a duty to represent workers fairly. If an employee is not satisfied with the union’s attempts to resolve the dispute, the employee may bring a complaint to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (or Canada Labour Relations Board for federally regulated employers). These complaints are typically only successful where the employee can demonstrate that the union has acted in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner in handling the employee’s issue.

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