We were very fortunate to welcome Al Brown on Friday (March 23) for our most recent Workplace Fairness Luncheon. Al is the Labour Relations Officer for the SAIT Faculty Association. Al addressed the topic of the union and Workplace Fairness. He brings to the table a wealth of experience, and broad knowledge of the Alberta Labour Relations Code.
I asked Al what he considered the most important learning the non-union employer can gain from the union, and he suggested that it is the concept of fairness. Unions will step in to fill the breach when there is a perception of unfairness in a workplace.
The role of the union rep is one of witness, ensuring the worker is treated with fairness and fully understands the case and the circumstances. At SAIT, there is an opportunity for circumstances to be resolved at an informal meeting before the grievance process is initiated. This requires a good working relationship between the union and Human Resources. Open and honest communication about the circumstances will ensure that the appropriate process is followed.
The union will not always pursue the grievance. The union may settle or drop grievances even if the affected employee disagrees. The duty of fair representation ensures that the decision to drop a grievance will not be arbitrary or wrongful. The union must carefully consider the significance of the case and its consequences for the union and the employee.
Strict timelines govern the filing process, as it moves from initiation through three steps. At SAIT, a grievance must be filed with the Director of Human Resources within 10 days of the date of the alleged occurrence. The timeline may range from 5 to 15 days, depending on the collective agreement.
There are 3 possible levels in the grievance procedure. In the final arbitration, at level 3, the proof is reasonableness, not beyond a shadow of a doubt. Between Level 2 and 3, parties may go to non-binding mediation to settle the dispute.
Our lunch participants were very interested to learn more about the union’s role. Most work in a non-union environment. Those who do work in a unionized environment may wish to refer to Blaine Donais’s book Engaging Unionized Employees: Employee Morale and Productivity. The book is based on the very pragmatic view that the key to engaging unionized employees is to involve their unions in the process of engagement, and it provides specific tools and steps for doing just that.
Our next workplace Fairness Luncheon will be held on April 27. Join us, and stay tuned for information on our topic and speaker.