Most collective bargaining agreements outline formal steps that must be followed to settle disputes between labor and management. Grievance process are the formal steps that must be followed to settle disputes between labor and management. The grievance process typically works as follows. First, the problem is reported to one’s immediate supervisor, who is obligated to investigate the matter and try to resolve the problem. The report can be written or oral, but it is usually written. The supervisor should then work with the union steward to resolve the problem. If the union steward does not believe that the problem is a legitimate grievance, no further action is taken.
If these efforts do not result in a resolution, it goes to the next level of supervision. This time, the employee filing the grievance is represented by the union. Failure to resolve the grievance at this stage within the time allotted in the collective bargaining agreement (usually 5 to 15 days) results in the grievance being taken to a higher level of management, such as a plant manager or even the executives of the company.
The highest level for the resolution and makes a determination about what action should occur. At this stage, the company and the union are both represented by high-level managers and union officials. If the union contract calls for binding arbitration, and most do, the arbitrator has the final say in the case.
The employee’s right to have a union representative involved in the process of disciplinary hearings resulted in large part from the 1975 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case NLRB v. Weingarten, Inc. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that a union representative could be present when a supervisor conducted an investigatory interview to gather information that could result in the employee being questioned or disciplined, or when an employer asks an employee to defend his or her actions.
Managers need to be very familiar with the requirements of union contracts and understand the types of actions that lead to grievances. By doing so, they reduce the likelihood that they will have to participate in a grievance process. A grievance is a charge by one or more employees that management has violated their contractual rights.