Member and Steward Responsibilities

logoA trade union (British Englishtrades union and amalgamation are also used), labour union (Canadian English) or labor union (American English) is an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals such as protecting the integrity of its trade, achieving higher pay, increasing the number of employees an employer hires, and better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members (rank and file members) and negotiates labour contracts (collective bargaining) with employers. The most common purpose of these associations or unions is “maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment“.[1] This may include the negotiation of wages, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies.

Unions may organize a particular section of skilled workers (craft unionism[2]), a cross-section of workers from various trades (general unionism[3]), or attempt to organize all workers within a particular industry (industrial unionism[3]). The agreements negotiated by a union are binding on the rank and file members and the employer and in some cases on other non-member workers. Trade unions traditionally have a constitution which details the governance of their bargaining unit and also have governance at various levels of government depending on the industry that binds them legally to their negotiations and functioning.

Originating in Europe, trade unions became popular in many countries during the Industrial Revolution, when the lack of skill necessary to perform most jobs shifted employment bargaining power almost completely to the employers’ side, causing many workers to be mistreated and underpaid. Trade unions may be composed of individual workers, professionals, past workers, students, apprentices and/or the unemployed.

  • 1Always remember the power is in unity.

  • Never “rat” to the boss on another co-worker for any reason (disputes between workers can be settled with your shop-steward or through the union’s grievance procedure.)

  • Never degrade other workers because of their race, sex, sexual preference, or religion, even if those workers are not in the union.

  • Make the job easier by working together, so that the job is more efficient and less stressful.

  • Never, EVER, discuss internal union business in front of a boss.

  • Always defend a fellow worker in front of the employer, and deal with differences later.

  • Never bad mouth a fellow worker to the boss.

Role of the steward

As a Steward, you are the officer who acts as the liaison between the Local Executive and the membership. It is your job to make sure the members you represent know what the union and the Local are doing, and it is also your job to make sure the union and the Local know how the members you represent feel on any subject.

The Steward is a key person in the union and it is within your power to ensure your Local is strong, representative and successful in protecting membership rights.

The Steward’s Job

The Steward’s most important job is to solve problems which arise at the worksite, but a union is more than “grievances and complaints’ and the Steward must be more than a “grievance and complaints” processor.

Here are some suggestions which will help you as a person and as a Steward in all your daily contacts with people:

  • Be Fair: listening to all points of view carefully;

  • Be Friendly: prepared to listen to the members’ complaints, problems and successes;

  • Be involved: work with people on their problems;

  • Be Enthusiastic: able to involve people in the union because of your own involvement;

  • Be Courageous: knowing when to tell members they are wrong and saying so (politely);

  • Be Efficient and Effective: securing the facts and seeking justice in a fair manner with the least delay possible;

  • Be Knowledgeable: knowing where to find the collective agreement, the acts and regulations, the PSAC Constitution and Policies, your Component By-laws and the Local By-laws, and who to ask if you need help understanding;knowing about your union, its resources and how it works: knowing and understanding the members and supervisors as individuals.

What You Need To Do

Be an Organizer

  • Your goal should be to get every member you deal with at the worksite to be members in good standing in the union by having them sign their membership card.

  • When a new worker starts, introduce yourself and the union on the first day. Explain what the union is and how it operates. Introduce them to other members of the union. Have the new worker sign their membership card on the first day on the job.

  • Develop membership participation in their union by encouraging attendance at Local meetings and by encouraging the members you represent at the worksite to volunteer to sit on Local Committees. Help to establish a committee on an issue of interest and importance to some of the members.

  • Know who’s who at the worksite, their membership standing, their interests and their objections to the union, if any.

  • Remember, being friendly makes friends.

Be an Educator

  • Talk about what your Local is doing and explain why they are doing it. Discuss union issues with the members.

  • Provide the members at the worksite with union publications, such as the Union Update, Collective Bargaining Updates, Pay Equity Bulletins, Regional Women’s Committee and Equity Newsletters, Health and Safety Newsletters, Component and Local publications.

  • Inform members about upcoming seminars and union activities.

  • Attend union courses yourself and share the knowledge with the members.

Encourage participation in regional committees and various community campaigns that affect members as employees and as part of the community.

Be a Communicator

  • Make sure notices are posted on the bulletin boards and members are informed about administration’s plans and decisions and their new policies.

  • Refer members to the appropriate Local Committee or community social service agency. Know what services are provided and be ready to refer your members to the right person/agency.

  • Listen to the problems which concern your members and be prepared to listen to personal success stories.

Be a Leader

  • Talk to all the members you represent, discuss issues with them, ask for their advice.

  • Don’t be afraid to speak on behalf of the members in your worksite.

  • Act promptly, decisively and keep your word.

Be a Problem Solver

  • You are the union representative at the worksite and, therefore, you will be the person approached by the membership when they have a problem on the job.

  • It is important that complaints and grievances be handled by you, the Steward, so you are aware of problems as they arise in the workplace.

As a Steward you are not expected to know all the answers immediately, but you are expected to find the answers. You learn your job through study, practice and discussion with the Chief Steward and more experienced Stewards. You learn by reading past grievances and adjudication/arbitration cases, since it is important to know not only what the contract contains, but also how it is interpreted.

What You Need To Know

The Collective Agreement:; Have your own copy of your collective agreement and read it from cover to cover. Discuss the collective agreement with other Stewards and officers so you know how it is interpreted.