By Diane Walsh, VP-Grievances

Two of the purposes of the KFA, according to our Constitution, are to “Protect the welfare, professional interests, and working conditions of its members,” and to “Assist in protecting and enhancing the freedom and quality of teaching, thought, and enquiry within the University.” Sometimes, this protection results in action that takes the form of a grievance. The union also has a legal duty to defend the Collective Agreement, and we do this through the grievance process.

What is a Grievance?

The Collective Agreement says in article 17.02 (a), “A grievance is any complaint relating to the application, operation or alleged violation of this Agreement or any question as to whether any matter is grievable or arbitrable.” So in other words, a grievance is a dispute about the terms of the Collective Agreement and how it is or is not being applied. 

Grievance work can take a number of forms. There are grievances having to do with individual members, and these are probably the most common. There are also other kinds of grievances called policy grievances, and these have to do with issues that affect or could affect more than one individual member and might impact policy or process within KPU. There also may be grievances that have the potential to affect the whole system and not just KPU, and we might refer to these as system grievances.

Simply approaching the KFA office with a concern does not mean that you have embarked on a formal grievance process. Grievances can be (and most often are) resolved informally by discussion, and your KFA officers are willing and able to help with informal resolutions. Including informal resolution, there are various steps or stages that grievances can go through and processes that are followed to ensure each complaint is resolved in the most effective way. At all stages, your KFA representatives are here to help you and to ensure that the processes are followed.

“Resolution” of a grievance means that the error, violation, oversight, misunderstanding or whatever was causing the problem has been corrected in a way satisfactory to the parties.

The Grievance Process

Article 17 of our Collective Agreement covers dispute resolution and gives a detailed description of grievance processes starting with informal resolutions and continuing with details of the steps and processes that formal grievances follow. It’s important to keep in mind that the grievance procedure is a dispute resolution procedure, and the point is to try to resolve issues.

Informal resolution is discussed in 17.02(d). An informal resolution can be sought either by discussing the matter directly with the administrator responsible or by approaching the KFA. As the Collective Agreement points out, “[t]he services of the Union Representatives are available to assist in informal resolution of these matters.” So in other words, KFA representatives can and will help facilitate informal resolutions.

The formal process, detailed in 17.02(e), (f) and (g), is engaged when informal resolution has not solved the dispute or when informal resolution isn’t appropriate. Formal grievances follow a series of steps which have explicitly detailed time limits that are meant to ensure resolution takes place as soon as possible within the process. Although the steps are called Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3, they do not necessarily follow from one to another. The differences between the Steps lie chiefly in the level of responsibility of the administrator involved, as discussed below. The steps might be followed in order or they might not, depending on the nature of the grievance. This distinction is necessary because every grievance is unique and the circumstances of each are unique.

The steps of the formal process begin with the Union informing the Employer of the details of the dispute, in writing. “The written grievance shall cite the articles in question, describe the alleged violation(s), and state the remedy sought,” according to 17.02(e). Step 1 describes the grievance being taken to the administrator directly responsible. If the grievance cannot be resolved with that administrator, 17.02 (f) states the grievance can be taken forward in Step 2 to “a more senior administrator.” At Step 3, 17.02(g), the grievance goes to the University President or their designate. If there is no satisfactory resolution at Step 3, the grievance is referred to arbitration.

The content of the written grievance must “cite the articles in question, describe the alleged violation(s), and state the remedy sought.” Your KFA representatives, usually the KFA VP Grievances, will gather information about exactly what has happened, will identify the relevant articles of the Collective Agreement, and will detail the remedy. Once the written grievance is submitted, the Employer normally has 8 weekdays to reply to grievances submitted at Step 1 and 7 weekdays to reply at Step 2 or 3.

If a grievance goes to arbitration, as covered under 17.03 of the Collective Agreement, this means that the parties could not resolve the grievance and that it will be heard by a third party, the arbitrator. The arbitrator who will hear the matter is either mutually agreed upon by the Employer and the KFA or, if the parties do not agree, then either or both parties can ask the Minister of Labour to appoint an arbitrator. The procedures for arbitration are determined by the Labour Relations Code of BC (17.03(c)). Once a grievance goes to arbitration, the arbitrator has the power and authority to interpret and apply the provisions of the Collective Agreement but does not have authority “to alter, amend, add to or delete from any of the provisions of this Agreement, or make any decision which is inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement” (17.03(i)). Once a grievance goes to arbitration, both parties lose control of the outcome and the third party, the arbitrator, decides the outcome.

As our Constitution and Bylaws say, we are here to protect the working conditions, welfare and professional interests of the membership. Please contact the KFA if you have any concerns about these matters, or if you have any questions or comments about this article.

Updated February 2022