The term "toxic work environment" has come up recently in both local and national news.
At a national level, a workplace assessment of the office of Canada's Governor General uncovered a workplace culture of bullying and intimidation and resulted in the unprecedented resignation of the Governor General herself, who was accused of creating and fostering a toxic work environment.
Here in the NWT, recent media coverage on the working environment at the North Slave Correctional Complex has made public many ongoing issues that the UNW has brought to the attention of the employer.
In a workplace with no union presence, the employer can do things arbitrarily and there is not much recourse for an employee.
When a grievance is filed in a unionized environment, both the employer and the employee can provide information to defend or explain their actions. It also ensures there is official documentation of what has been taking place.
In healthier workplaces, issues that workers are experiencing can often be resolved through discussion with the employer, the worker, and the union without needing to go to through a formal complaint process. If a resolution cannot be reached informally, the next step is to file the grievance.
Filing a grievance may feel like a scary undertaking, but it does not have to be a big deal; it is simply a written complaint that a collective bargaining agreement has been interpreted or applied incorrectly.
Filing a grievance puts the issue on the record and means it can be discussed and resolved, or pushed to an outside party to look at objectively and make a decision that both parties must abide by.
A grievance can be withdrawn at any time, but they are often useful for drawing attention to issues and beginning the conversations that can lead to resolutions.
Grievances are filed by a union on behalf of a member who is experiencing an issue in their workplace. An individual grievance usually deals with a specific issue a worker is experiencing. Union Shop Stewards and Service Officers are available to assist individuals, and work with them to determine whether or not a grievance is the best way to address an issue.
A grievance can also be filed by a union on behalf of a group of members who work together. These usually address issues that multiple workers are experiencing within a particular workplace, such as a group of workers who are treated differently because of union activism, or a number of employees who have been compensated incorrectly.
A third type of grievance is a policy grievance, which can relate to the broad interpretation or application of a collective agreement that affects all workers under the same agreement, such as an employer’s hiring or termination processes. A policy grievance can also address an employer policy or practice that may violate a collective agreement, like a new leave policy.
Todd Parsons, UNW President