Grievances and Their Resolution

Grievances arise during the course of a musical worklife and you should know how they are resolved. When you work under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, the process is spelled out in the contract. A grievance is defined as a dispute regarding the interpretation or application of a contractual term.

For instance, the contract may specify that a certain dollar amount be paid to every musician involved in an overtime rehearsal. When you receive your salary check, you find that the amount paid you was less than the contract specified. Upon checking with other musicians involved in the overtime rehearsal, you find that they were all paid the correct amount, but you were not. You now have a grievance.

However, grievances are generally not processed unless you file a written complaint. The complaint must allege which provision of the contract you believe was violated and how you believe it was violated.

You cannot be legally discriminated against by either the union or the employer for exercising your right to file a grievance.

The contract may specify that a completed grievance form must be filed with the union or its representative. The union must fairly determine whether or not your grievance is legitimate before it decides whether to process it. Once a determination is made that your grievance is legitimate, it will file a copy of the grievance with the employer and request that your salary be corrected. If the employer responds by denying the union’s request, a meeting will be arranged as the first step in a formal grievance process.

Often, the first meeting will be between the union representative and the Personnel Manager. Generally, simple grievances are resolved at this first formal step in the grievance procedure. If it is not, the dispute will proceed to the next step in which higher levels of union and management are involved. The last step in the procedure, which usually involves a serious dispute that cannot be resolved by the two sides, is settled once and for all by impartial arbitration. The arbitrator’s decision is final and binding.

However, not all grievances are initiated by an employee or the union. The management may have a grievance with a musician that it claims did not fulfill his or her duty by some behavior. If there were no grievance procedure, management would be free to use self help and impose a form of discipline upon the musician. That could even mean a suspension or termination.

All employees who are summoned to a meeting with management who reasonably believe the meeting may result in discipline being imposed upon them are entitled to have a union representative present to assist them. These rights are called Weingarten rights.

At such a meeting, the union representative is on an equal basis with the management person. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that union representatives may use “intemperate, abusive, or insulting language without fear of restraint or penalty if he [or she] believes such rhetoric to be an effective means to make [a] point.”

Grievance processes are designed to resolve disputes in a prompt, reasonable and fair manner. Without such a process, there could be constant antagonism that could result in suspending the organization’s activities and putting the musicians out of work.