I want to inform you about the rights and responsibilities of union stewards. Because stewards are in day-to-day contact with both management and bargaining unit members, they are on the front lines of the labor relations battleground. Thus, stewards have two critical jobs: first, they are usually the first union representatives to carry grievances to management; second, they are in the best position to insure continued organizing of the workers on the job, which can translate into increased solidarity and union strength when a showdown occurs with management.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, stewards enjoy a special status: They are equals with management when they are acting as representatives of the union and the employees. In addition, the law protects stewards from retaliation. This means management cannot discipline or threaten a steward because the Company believes the steward has filed too many grievances or has filed frivolous grievances. Similarly, in dealing with the steward as a worker, the company must treat the steward the same as all other employees and cannot hold the steward to higher standards at work.

Stewards also have some additional leeway in dealing with management during the grievance process. For instance, management cannot summarily discipline a steward for using profanity or harsh language during a grievance meeting. But there are limits to this leeway, and there is some wisdom in Teddy Roosevelt's old adage: "speak softly, and carry a big stick." In the case of the steward, the big stick is the threat of arbitration or, if there is no contract at the time, a strike in support of the grievance.

There are several important guidelines for being an effective steward. Most importantly, a steward must have a firm foundation so that she can quickly evaluate the merits of a grievance and hold the company's feet to the fire when appropriate. Thus, the steward must study and know her contract and grievance procedure inside and out. And she must know the law of the shop--past practices, grievance settlements, and arbitration awards. An effective steward will also:

This is Doug Bonney of the Bonney Law Office helping you to know your rights!