Dealing with Grievances | Grievance Backlogs

Dealing With Grievances

Do you have a number of unresolved grievances? Are you wondering what you can do about them? Does the thought of dealing with grievances make you shudder?

Elaine Newman discusses the trouble each side may have in dealing with grievances. She notes management falls victim to the 3 Ds

  • Duck dealing with a question
  • Defer coming up with a solution
  • Delegate an answer

It takes two to tango, but the labour management relationship is about building a relationship not cutting a rug. On paper there is just the Employer and the Union, however the reality is more complex when dealing with grievances.

Just Whose Decision is it?

The Employer side is represented to the employees by the front line supervisors, but they often have limited input into a policy that creates a problem. Upline responsibility for a decision may lay with:

  • Human Resources
  • Legal Department
  • Supervisors in another business unit
  • C Suite folks

During the early phases of a dispute and resulting grievance, ducking the question is fuelled by two things on the employer side:

  1. Uncertainty about who has the authority to deal with the conflict
  2. This may be present because the front line supervisor is unsure who has authority. This response is common in larger organization where supervisors carry out instructions but have little input in the formation of the policies.

  3. Desire to avoid exercising authority
  4. This desire is borne out of a fear of making the wrong choice.

The union side has different accountabilities. The grievor wants a solution that helps herself. Elected union officials want an outcome that makes them (the them in this case could be the union officer or the union) look strong or strengthens their position in future negotiations. Union staff may be pulled in multiple directions but are ultimately accountable to the business realities of the parent union. In the union world the people with authority generally know they have it, but exercising authority may come with consequences for elected officials.

Since the elected officials need support from their membership they are at the mercy of their members in exercising their authority. When officials see an unpopular decision needs to be made they may avoid exercising their discretion.

Solutions are Hard

In a workplace where authority to make decisions is unclear and union representatives value the appearance of strength, conversations about how to actually solve problems can be replaced with an exchange of barbs and positions. Humans by their nature avoid discomfort, so even finding space to talk about solutions can be difficult.

The grievance procedure in most workplaces seeks to help parties get over their hang up about meeting. The trouble is, in many workplaces, the meetings held as part of the procedure take the form of one side presenting a case and the other responding some time later in written form. This is a missed opportunity that creates work for arbitrators and mediators. Often parties in mediation have made little attempt to actually discuss a grievance or explore solutions by themselves.

Dealing With Grievances

So when you have a small or large pile of grievances that need to be dealt with, something needs to be done. From above, the main problems with dealing with grievances on the management side come down to people don’t want to give answers, agree to solutions or put someone in charge of answering; on the union side answers get held up by members with a narrow focus and officials avoiding unpopular decisions. Mediation offers both sides an opportunity.

The Value of Mediation

Mediation can help both sides dealing with a backlog of grievances. Mediation:

  • Offers parties a space to get together to discuss each grievance
  • Ensures that the appropriate decision makers are in the room
  • Provides a third party who is unbiased to facilitate discussion
  • Provides a process that gets beyond personal attacks to address the issues at hand

Multiple Mini Mediations

In order to help employers and unions that face a number of grievances, Wakely Mediation offers full day Multiple Mini Mediations for grievances. I work with the workplace parties to build a realistic agenda based on the issues at grievance, the parties may submit short briefs on the cases to be mediated, then on the day the cases are mediated back to back. Multiple Mini Mediations provides value for money for a number of simpler cases that may not need a full day mediation. If you’re interested in grievance mediations or a day of multiple mini mediations, contact Wakely Mediation for a no obligation consultation.

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