Do you know what a grievance is and how to file one? In this month’s Know Your Rights, we review this important protection for unionized workers.

A grievance is an allegation that one or more aspects of the collective agreement have been violated by the Employer or one of the Employer's representatives. This normally means that there’s a difference between how a worker or workers interpret the collective agreement and how management interprets it. In all instances where you suspect your rights have been violated, the first thing you should do is to document the 6Ws: who, what, where, when, why and want. 

WHO is involved in the grievance - one person or several people, e.g. grievor(s), witnesses, supervisors

WHAT happened and how many complaints are there and what are they. What adjustments are required to correct the injustice.

WHERE did the grievance take place or occur. e.g. department, aisle, work station, unit, etc.

WHY did it happen and why is it a grievance?

WHEN did the grievance occur? e.g. what day and time

How do I WANT the grievance resolved?

When it comes to filing a grievance, the steward–not the member–files the grievance with support of their Labour Relation Specialist. As the elected or appointed representative of the unit, the COPE steward is tasked with enforcing the collective agreement. The steward should ask the following questions when considering filing a grievance:


  1. Has the collective agreement been violated?
  2. Was the member disciplined in any way?
  3. Have any Acts or Legislation been violated?
  4. Have the employer’s policies been violated?
  5. Did an action or lack of action on the part of management affect the terms and conditions of employment and/or their work?


If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ the steward should proceed with the grievance. If the answer to all of the questions is ‘no,’ then you may have a problem to deal with by a separate process but not a grievance.

There are four types of grievances: Individual Grievance, Group Grievance, Policy\Union Grievance, and a Management grievance.  For more information about the different types of grievances, click here.

Lastly, understanding your collective agreement is crucial to knowing your rights as a worker. If you are not familiar with the ins and outs of your collective agreement, you can find it and review using the COPE Ontario Member’s Portal.

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