Union members have a right to be represented fairly by the union in all aspects of union activity–bargaining, grievance representation, and internal union affairs.
On a day-to-day basis members have a right to expect the union shop steward to:
- Listen to their concerns. You can set the appropriate time and place for discussions, but you need to be available.
- Thoroughly investigate member complaints. Involve the member in the investigation when possible.
- Provide information about union matters. Encourage members to attend unit meetings. But be prepared to share information at the worksite, too, on contract benefits, union services and labor-management issues.
- Relay member concerns to union staff and leadership. It’s the members’ union; they have a right to be heard.
- Enforce the contract. The union’s chief contribution to members is the labor agreement. Members rightfully expect it to be enforced.
- Represent everyone. Regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, or personality, everyone in the bargaining unit has a legal right to representation, even if they are not a dues-paying member.
There are limits on what the members can demand of stewards. For example:
- You are not required to be an expert on everything. Sometimes member questions should be referred to a supervisor or to a Local 1245 business representative.
- You are the representative of the union, not the personal lawyer for an individual worker. Your activities as a steward should be driven by what is good for the entire bargaining unit.
- Not every complaint is a grievance. A steward should listen carefully to every complaint, but the steward’s investigation will determine whether a grievance is the appropriate action.
- The grievance belongs to the union. When the union files a grievance, there is almost always an underlying principle at stake. While the grievant has a legitimate role in the grievance process and should be consulted about settlement, the union retains the ultimate authority to settle grievances.
- You are not required to be anyone’s private counselor. Workers may bring personal problems to stewards. Listen carefully, as you would to any issue that a member brings up. If personal problems affect the member’s work performance, be prepared to defend them in the grievance procedure. But you should not feel obligated to give counseling on personal problems. Where appropriate, refer the member to an Employee Assistance Program or other agency for the underlying personal problem.