A Union Steward's Ten
by Tom Juravich and Kate Bronfenbrenner
Jan 04 – A good steward is many
things – an organizer, a negotiator, a counsellor, a peacemaker
and a troublemaker. But there are certain things that a steward must avoid
at all costs.
Mistake one – Fail to
Not only does this leave the union open to being sued
for breaching its duty to provide fair representation, it's just not the
right thing to do. It undermines the whole purpose of the union and the
very idea of solidarity.
Mistake two – Make
Management is notorious for trying to get stewards to
trade grievances. "I'll let you have this case if you drop the one we
talked about yesterday." Every member deserves a fair shake and every
grievance needs to be evaluated on its own merit. Never agree to anything
you would be uncomfortable telling your entire membership about.
Mistake three – Promise
remedies too quickly
You're hurting both the member and your credibility if
you pass judgement on a grievance prior to a thorough investigation. Only
after you have spoken to the grievor and witnesses and consulted the
contract, the employer's rules and past practices are you in a position to
make that determination. Given the frequency of poor and mixed arbitration
decisions, no steward should ever promise victory.
Mistake four – Fail to
speak with new workers
The most important way a union gains the support of a
new member or a potential new member is by one-on-one contact with the
steward. You not only want to provide new workers with information, but
need to build a personal relationship and begin to get them involved in
union activities from their first day on the job.
Mistake five – Fail to
adhere to time lines
Even the strongest, iron-clad case can be lost if the
time line specified in your contract isn't followed. Even if management
agrees to an extension, it is not in the union's interest to let problems
fester and grow. If you do get a formal extension of time limits, be sure
to get it in writing.
Mistake six – Let
grievance go unfiled
Every grievance that goes unfiled undermines the
contract you struggled so hard to win. While most members see changes and
problems only in terms of the impact on them, the steward needs to be able
to understand a grievance's impact on the contract and the union as a
Mistake seven – Meet with
When you meet with management alone, suspicions may
arise as to what kinds of deals you're making. It also allows management
to lie or change its story. More importantly, when the steward meets with
management alone, it takes away an opportunity for members to participate
in the union and to understand that it's really their organization.
Mistake eight – Fail to
get settlements in writing
Just as you should protect yourself by not meeting
alone with management, be sure to get grievance settlements in writing.
Putting the settlement in writing helps clarify the issues and keeps
management from backing down on their deal.
Mistake nine – Fail to
Publicizing each and every victory is an important way
to build your local union. This publicity not only has a chilling effect
on the employer, but helps educate your own members on their contractual
rights. It also gives you something to celebrate and builds the courage
needed to carry on.
Mistake ten – Fail to
Stewards are much more than
grievance handlers. They are the key people in the local who mobilize the
membership, and they must be talkin' union and fightin' union all the
time. Each and every grievance and incident must be looked at in terms of
how it can increase participation, build the union, and create new