Role of a Union Steward

As a Steward, you have two main jobs—first, building a strong union in your work place; and, second, grievance handling. You must have a strong union behind you if you’re going to be able to carry on your job of handling grievances effectively. Your attitude and effort you put into your job is what counts. Make it a privilege for your fellow workers to be active union members who attend meetings regularly and willingly pay their dues. Being a know-it-all or overbearing steward doesn’t do this. A lot of it will come about by the example you set. Enthusiasm and sincerity are contagious. You can always sell better what you believe in yourself.

“Know your contract!” This is the first commandment for the steward. Read over every word of it. Discuss it with union officers. Become familiar with the provisions. Understand how they apply to special conditions in your department. Your fellow workers don’t expect you to know everything, and they respect you a lot more if you don’t try to bluff your way out of things. But they do expect, as their leader, to be well informed. To educate workers so they understand and cooperate with union policies, you must first educate yourself.

As steward, you have to do a lot of the day to day work. But if you are a good leader, you’ll get cooperation from your fellow workers and your union officials as well as from management and this helps make the job easier. The keystone of the local union may be the stepping stone to greater union leadership.

Unions Stewards are:

Negotiators- The primary negotiating task of the steward is the handling of grievances. You will learn proper grievance handling and how to settle grievances. Check all available facts before taking an issue to management. Prepare your case so that it is clear, complete and to the point. Be careful to observe all contract requirements on grievance handling. In dealing with your supervisor be business-like, polite and firm; don’t bully or threaten and treat the other person with respect and demand you be treated in the same manner. Keep the member(s) informed as to the status of the grievance. Follow through all the way to final settlement and make sure to keep complete and accurate records.

Organizers- who help mobilize members into action, encourage co-workers to come to meetings, and introduce themselves to new members.

Educators- who explain to members the importance of working union and how to make the Union Contract work for you. Education is a two way process. Stewards learn from the members about the issues happening in the workplace.  The steward has the responsibility of educating the members in his/her department, both the old and the new, about the collective bargaining agreement, union policy, and why changes occurred. Stewards keep the members informed about what happens at union meetings, community actions and other union activities. Stewards set examples for workplace fairness.

Advocates- who represent members at grievances and ensure just cause is met for disciplinary actions. Members rely on Stewards to represent their needs and concerns.

Problem solvers- You’re the person workers turn to with their problems. It might be a work-site hazard. Maybe someone’s being investigated or disciplined. It might be just a new employee with a question. Perhaps you can solve the problem with a friendly talk, or maybe you’ll organize a work-site action or even file a grievance. You are the work-group leader.

Work-site leaders- You’re the one who keeps it moving. You’re the one who’s not afraid to speak up to management. You make unity happen, and you never let anyone forget there’s a union at your work-site. The steward must take the leadership role in his/her department. He/She must set an example for other workers to follow. The steward must make decisions which uphold the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and the union constitution and bylaws.

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