grievance, collective agreement, union

What do I do if my union won’t advance my grievance?

When you’re working under a collective agreement (i.e. a unionized workplace), the grievance process under the collective agreement is the only mechanism for addressing issues and having your voice heard. The grievance process is how you can attempt to have a problem solved by your union. 


Since unions are the only forum through which unionized employees can seek help for most of their problems, if a union will not advance a grievance, for whatever reason, the grievor might worry that their issue will not be addressed. Or, that grievor might be left without options with which to seek legal help.


But, there are solutions that you can seek if your union has refused to address or listen to your grievance in the usual forum. This article has advice on how to move forward if you feel like you’re in a tight spot when dealing with your union.


What is a grievance? Why is it so important?


A grievance is an allegation that the collective agreement has been breached or related in some way to the employment relationship. The employee bringing forward the grievance is the “grievor”, but in reality, the union is the only party that can take the grievor’s complaint forward through the steps of the grievance and arbitration processes under the collective agreement. 


There are several different types of grievances:

  • Individual grievances: these grievances are brought by the union because the management of their company has breached the collective agreement in regards to an individual grievor. The management might have overstepped by inappropriately disciplining, harassing, demoting, or denying the rights or benefits of that employee.
  • Group grievances: these grievances are brought by the union on behalf of a group of employees who feel that their rights have collectively been violated. Once again, these rights can come from multiple sources. In order to be included in a group grievance, interested members need to sign on.
  • Policy grievances: a policy grievance is a grievance presented by the union to the company’s management about a workplace rule or policy that affects all the members or employees who work for them. A good example is a union challenging the reasonableness of a random drug testing policy – it is a challenge to the rules of the workplace, not to a specific action toward a particular employee. 

Grievances are important because when an employee is unionized, they do not have the option of bringing their employers to court over an issue. In order to get a problem addressed as a unionized employee, it must be through a grievance advanced by their union.


Does my union owe me a duty?


Under collective bargaining statutes in Canada, unions owe the employees covered by their collective agreement a “duty of fair representation”. This does not mean that they have to advance every grievance or represent all their members in every claim, but they are required to investigate the claims brought to them. They are also required to make decisions in a fair manner that gives each member fair representation, meaning that decisions not to pursue a claim cannot be made in bad faith or for arbitrary reasons. 


Why might a union refuse to hear a grievance?


There are situations where a union may decide not to advance a grievance. Sometimes, they may decide that the allegation made by the grievor is not a breach of the collective agreement, is not supported by strong enough evidence, or is not something they are willing to represent.


Unions may also conclude that they would be out of time to advance the grievance. Most collective agreements have clauses about when grievances must be presented. There may be an expiration date as to when members can bring a grievance forward about a particular issue, especially if they have left their job. 


If a member’s grievance is not advanced, they should speak to their union about why it was denied. If that member feels that their grievance was not fairly represented, they may be able to look into other solutions.


What are my options?


If a union member feels that their union has not met its duty to fairly represent them, they can speak to a lawyer about gaining representation to try to encourage their union to meet that duty. This can be done by sending a demand letter to the union that outlines their duty to represent that union member, and indicate that that member will take legal action if they are not represented. 


By hiring outside representation in the form of a lawyer, union member can increase their likelihood of receiving assistance from their union. A lawyer can help that union member get the justice that they deserve, even if it is not through the court system.




When employees are unionized, complaints about their workplace, management, and treatment must all go through their union in the form of grievances. If a union will not go forward with a grievance from a member, that member may feel that they have not received the justice that they deserve, and they may feel that their hands are tied when trying to have their problem dealt with.


However, if a union member feels that their union is not meeting their duty of representation, they can hire a lawyer to send a demand letter, encouraging their union to listen to their grievance and meet their duty.


If you are a union member with a problem that you feel has not been dealt with by your union, make sure to reach out to the qualified team at Achkar Law for help.


Contact Us


If you are an employee with questions about unions and grievances, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist. 


If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with a same-day response, visit our Chief Legal Officer Program page for our strategic solutions.