Queen's University IRC

Strategic Grievance Handling

Developing Techniques and Processes to Strategically Prevent and Manage Grievances



The number of outstanding grievances is one of the most telling indicators of the state of labour relations in a unionized environment. Considering legal costs, damage to labour-management relationships and reduced productivity, grievances can also be very expensive for both employers and unions. Like taxes, grievances are a part of the unionized workplace but many can be avoided and strategic practitioners can play a role in reducing their frequency. There are measures that can be taken before grievances are launched. There are steps that you can take during the grievance procedure, during mediation and in advance of the arbitration process to lessen the impact on employees, the union, and the organization. That’s where this program comes in.

Strategic grievance handling is a thoughtful approach to labour relations. It involves identifying workplace-wide issues or problems, then analyzing the way in which proactive individual grievance management can address those issues. A long-term goal can then be developed for solving the systemic issues. 


Mar 08 - Mar 11, 2022 Toronto Details will be provided after registration. Mar 04 $4,795
Oct 24 - Oct 27, 2022 Toronto Details will be provided after registration. Oct 20 $4,795




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You will come away from this program with the big-picture perspective, as well as some skills that you can use back at work to confidently handle all steps in the grievance process.

a) The Rules of the Road

Much of the grievance process is grounded in law, so that’s where we start. In no time, you’ll gain an understanding of the basic legal foundation as well as these topics: 

  • What is a grievance?
  • How is it linked to collective bargaining?
  • What are the typical boundaries and scope of a grievance?
  • Which sorts of outcomes are predictable?
  • When can a grievance be reviewed?

b) Conflict Escalation and Containment

There’s both art and science involved in recognizing, assessing, and preventing conflict from escalating into a formal grievance. Learn to identify the stages in conflict escalation and acquire the techniques for controlling conflict. Come away with a practical five-stage conflict escalation model with immediate practical benefit for reducing workplace “temperature.” Best of all, test your understanding of this tool in a scripted scenario and, in a safe workshop setting, discuss methods of intervention. 

c) Case Studies: Learning from Decisions

Working in small groups you’ll compare your judgment using real-life cases against actual decisions made by arbitrators, and utilize these decisions to start developing your own strategic insights.  You’ll hear from participants about their workplace issues and work in table groups to re-think approaches to current or pending grievance scenarios

Hear the story about how an “ordinary” grievance process contributed to a workplace tragedy. 

  • What creative solutions were developed to work through these situations?
  • What was learned? 
  • How has legislation and workplace policies changed?
  • How can each of us translate these lessons into practical applications in our own workplaces?

d) How to be a Strong Advocate

The basis of effective grievance handling consists of thorough preparation and solid advocacy, communication, and negotiating skills. In this session, you’ll learn:

  • How to prepare for grievance meetings
  • The benefits of information sharing
  • How to apply strategic analysis of grievances for early resolution
  • How to negotiate at grievance meetings

Join the session leader in discussions on key issues and questions that inevitably arise:

  • What information should or should not be revealed at early stages?
  • What should the grieving party or supervisor say and do in grievance meetings?
  • Which types of negotiating strategies can be employed during grievance meetings?
  • What is the best way to communicate for maximum impact?

e) Following the Mediation and Arbitration Routes

Grievance mediation and arbitration each demand a specific skill-set and understanding. Learn — and practice through simulations — the difference between the two in role plays. You are asked to take on a role and, guided by confidential information, play out a scenario that will be resolved through both the mediation and arbitration processes. Get on-the-spot coaching along the way.

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of grievance mediation and arbitration?
  • When would you choose either process?
  • When would you make a process shift, and move from one process to the other?
  • How should you make that shift?

f) Feeding the Collective Agreement

Strategic grievance handling inevitably translates into strategic labour relations. In this closing session, we make the connection to not only the workplace dynamics but to the all-important bargaining relationship and review the processes that nurture these relationships.

  • What are the best practices in tracking grievances, and how does your handling of them impact the bargaining process?
  • Why do we choose to go to arbitration and how can we improve the process when negotiating collective agreements?
  • What are the economic realities of grievance mediation or arbitration?


Mercedes Watson

Lead Facilitator

Deborah Cooper

Guest Speaker

Deborah Cooper

Guest Speaker

Carol De Rosie

Guest Speaker

Carol De Rosie

Guest Speaker

John McConchie

Guest Speaker

Dawn McDermott

Guest Speaker
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Mercedes Watson

Mercedes Watson, MA, BFA, C.Med. IMI, is the CEO of Dixon Hall Neighbourhood Services, a non-profit, multi-site, multi sector agency providing over sixty programs to those most vulnerable in Toronto’s downtown east with a mission to create lasting solutions to end poverty, social injustices, and isolation. Dixon Hall has been offering its services since 1929 and has a staff of over 300, many of whom are represented by CUPE local 2497, and focuses on the following services: seniors, housing and homelessness, employment, children and youth, and a celebrated music school.

Prior to taking on her role with Dixon Hall, Mercedes served as Senior Strategist and Founder of a boutique-consulting firm, Thought Department Inc. A portion of her consulting practice focused on labour relations issues as they related to mediation, negotiations and workplace facilitations. She is a regular facilitator at Queen’s IRC where she provides her expertise to core courses (Negotiation Skills, Strategic Grievance Handling and Managing Unionized Environments) and travels throughout Canada and the West Indies (Cave Hill School of Business and Management, Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business) on behalf of Queen’s IRC to deliver customized training to organizations and their union and/or management groups.

In addition to both a theoretical and practical understanding of culture, conflict management styles and analysis tools, her understanding of organizational change and change management has enhanced the effectiveness of her restorative work in organizations across the country. Her unique experience of being a lead negotiator on the management side as well as the union side allows her to more effectively assist and understand workplace issues.

From 1997 to 2010, Mercedes was the Chief Negotiator and Chief Executive Officer for the Union of British Columbia Performers (UBCP/ACTRA), the Director for the ACTRA Performers’ Rights Society (APRS) and the Recording Artists Collecting Society (RACS) all unionized workplaces. In her capacity as Chief Negotiator and Chief Executive Officer she led numerous international, multi-party contract negotiations, most notably with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents over 350 motion picture and televisions producers, predominantly the major studios in the United States. With UBCP/ACTRA she was also lead negotiator for management negotiations with the employee bargaining unit represented by the Canadian Auto Workers (Unifor). Preceding her work with UBCP/ACTRA, Ms. Watson was the Director for ACTRA PRS and RACS, managing unionized staff represented by the United Steelworkers and Canadian Office and Professional Employees (COPE). In her current capacity, and while with UBCP/ACTRA and ACTRA PRS she was responsible for terminations, discipline matters, privacy issues, workplace health and safety, mediations, arbitrations and human rights related matters. Together with Kenda L. Murphy, LLB, Mercedes co-edited the instructor training materials for Industrial Relations in Canada, Fourth Edition (2015, Fiona McQuarrie, John Wiley & Sons).

Mercedes holds a Master of Arts in Conflict Analysis and Management from Royal Roads University’s School of Peace and Conflict Management (MA) where her research focused on alternate dispute resolution systems and conflict management within complex organizational settings. She is a Chartered Mediator (C.Med) with an International Mediation Designation (IMI), serves on the roster of mediators for the government of Ontario and has been a member of the ADRIO C.Med Skills Assessment Committee since 2011.

Deborah Cooper

Deborah Cooper is currently the General Secretary of the National Joint Council (NJC) of the Public Service of Canada. She is a union-side appointee to the position, having taken up the post in May 2013. The position is alternately held by employer side and bargaining agent side appointees. The NJC is a union-management organization that is the forum of choice for co-development and consultation between the parties within the federal public service. The NJC also manages numerous directives agreed to by the parties on items ranging from travel and relocation to the health care plan and the long-term disability plan.

Prior to this role, Deborah worked in private practice as an employment and labour lawyer, moving over to work in-house at two different federal bargaining agents in 2005 and 2009. From 2012-2013, she also worked on the employer side, on an interchange, as a Director in the Labour Relations and Compensation Division of a large federal department. Deborah has also worked in Paris, France at both UNESCO and the Canadian Embassy, and has lectured at the Barreau de Versailles. She holds an Honours Bachelor Degree from the University of Ottawa, a Law Degree from the University of Western Ontario, and is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, having been called to the Bar of Ontario in 1997.

Carol De Rosie


Carol De Rosie is a Registered Nurse who spent most of her adult life in Toronto working at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre where she worked in Oncology. As an active staff member, Carol sat on numerous hospital committees through the years including the Diversity, Ethics, Fiscal Advisory, and Nursing Advisory.

Carol held positions with the Ontario Nurses Association, Local 80 as: Grievance Officer, First Vice President, and for 10 years, full time President. During those years she led complicated negotiations during hospital restructuring, and managed grievances, arbitrations, mediation, professional practice, contract negotiations, return to work, and accommodation issues for her members.

In 2003, Sunnybrook learned first-hand the importance of strong and collaborative health and safety practices during SARs. As the Worker Co-chair of a productive and highly functional 40 member Joint Health and Safety Committee, Carol led the successful shift in the safety culture at Sunnybrook.

In 2006, Carol and her family moved to Kingston where she started a consulting company. She then worked for Ontario Nurses Association, teaching labour relations, health & safety, professional practice, return to work, and accommodation. As well as a servicing Labour Relations Officer and Chief Negotiator, she represented nurses working in the community, nursing homes, hospitals, and public health units sectors.

Upon retirement in 2015, Carol revived her consulting company and for the past two years has focused on staff engagement, conflict resolution, healthy workplaces, and leadership, predominantly in the health care field.

John McConchie

John McConchie is a labour arbitrator, mediator, and harassment complaints investigator who also advises clients in labour arbitration and human rights matters.

John brings over 25 years of experience and a special interest in preventative law to the task of helping clients both solve legal problems and prevent them from arising or recurring. To this end, he works with his partner, Ricki Lambeck McConchie, in providing client-targeted seminars, workshops and online programs on popular workplace subjects.

John was legal assistant to the Chair of the Labour Relations Board of BC from 1980 to 1981, an adjunct professor of law at the University of BC from 1992 to 1996, and adjudicator for the Employment Standards Tribunal of BC from 1995 to 2000. Since 1995, he has been a labour arbitrator in British Columbia and named roster arbitrator on many provincial lists, including that of the BC Government and BCGEU.

Dawn McDermott

Dawn McDermott, Senior Advisor of Dispute Resolution and Support for Wilfrid Laurier University, has a 25-year history of working with people and organizations in crisis, implementing community programs and developing institutional supports for people experiencing marginalization, victimization, harassment and discrimination.

During her tenure as the Executive Director of Windsor and Essex County, Dawn was a member of the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee, and a team member appointed to conduct the Domestic Violence Safety audit of the Windsor police service. She co-created and implemented a group treatment program for female political torture survivors. She initiated the creation of a multicultural liaison coordinator position in partnership with the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County to support individuals with immigrant and refugee status that were at high risk of experiencing violent crime.

She was a founding member of the Human Trafficking committee for Essex County and co-lead the implementation of the Neighbours Friends and Family program.

In 2009, Dawn accepted the position of Safe Workplace Advocate at Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital following an inquest into a murder/suicide that had occurred in the workplace. In this position, Dawn acquired basic and advanced mediation training from Harvard University. Over a period of 2 years Dawn was involved in the research and creation of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario Best Practice Guideline on Managing Conflict in Health Care Groups.

Currently Dawn is responsible for managing interpersonal disputes between individuals and within groups at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is very involved in the Threat Assessment Team and the gendered violence prevention initiative, and is creating an on-line course for domestic violence in policing.

Dawn is a mediator, a Crucial Conversations “train the trainer” and a Mental Health First Aid trainer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in communication studies and sociology from the University of Windsor. Most recently, Dawn completed her LLM through Osgoode PD at York University.