Burning Question: Who Controls Grievances and Remedies

Today’s burning question: When proposing a remedy to a grievance in a collective bargaining workplace, does the grievant have full discretion to demand whatever he/she believes is an appropriate remedy even when the steward and/or union executive board disagrees?

Answer: The basic rule in labor law is that the grievance belongs to the union, not the individual member. As a result, the member can make requests for a remedy, but has no right to insist on a particular remedy. I understand this can be a difficult proposition for union members to accept when they are the grievant. It can also put the eBoard in a difficult position but the alternative would be nothing short of anarchy.

Think about it. You have 500 members who are satisfied with the way something is being done. It could be the way vacations are selected, overtime is assigned, or promotions are made. If one member could simply file a grievance and insist on a remedy that changes the status quo, then the majority would have no say in that change. One selfish individual with a grievance could dictate a policy that would hurt everyone else in the local.

The rule is the union controls the grievance. The union owes a duty of fair representation to the individual member, but when it comes to (a) the decision to process the grievance and (b) the proposed remedy if indeed there is a breach, the union has the final say.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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