Union Stewards Guide to Effective Leadership
"One who manages the domestic concerns of a family or institution…One who superintends another's affairs…One who helps in arrangements…Marshaling…An overseer… A foreman." ~Webster
Our focus is to give assistance to our hundreds of shop stewards who are helping hundreds and thousands of union members throughout Local 830. We tip our union hats to you who serve your co-workers and this office. You accepted the burdens of workplace leadership. A position that is fraught with anxiety and frustration but without glory, but is also a position that can be truly gratifying as you help and assist your coworkers. That alone is our reward for serving the membership.
Your position is a day-to-day activity of membership contact within your shop. Uniquely, by this position you have the opportunity to be on top of most situations that occur whether it is the company violating the contract or whether the Union business agent is unavailable to be there quickly.
Most members look first to their steward. You are most often available on a daily basis, you have frequent and direct contact with your union office and usually you have been in bargaining and understand intimately the essence of the contract language. Whether you are a new steward or one with years of true experience you have a lot of people relying on you to protect their interests and to enforce their labor agreement.
As a steward you have distinct ROLES to fulfill:
Problem Solver - Each of these roles dictates a level of commitment that you have taken on to be an effective steward. The problems that you encounter are not always related to your current work situation or your labor agreement. Often, a member may have an interpersonal problem that requires assistance by outside experts. You need to know where and to whom to refer your co-worker for the type of help that they may need. Our resource network is useful here so become familiar with its listings.
Leader - As a leader it is understood that to lead by example is the most valid way to receive the respect of you co-worker. Whether it is in the quality of work that you personally perform or the willingness to take on a problem for the member and working it through the grievance procedure with your employer. The giving of your time and lending a caring ear will earn you miles of dividends from the member.
Communicator - Communicating is critical. As your business agent strives to make regular plant visitations for the purpose of knowing the membership, so too is it important that you keep in touch with the different members working in your building. During negotiations and while processing a grievance, it is a particularly critical time for communications. Updating the members as to the bargaining process and status of his/her grievance is vital and expected. Introducing yourself to new members is the first chance to provide that individual with a proper introduction to the union. You are the welcoming liaison for new employees to their union.
Educator - As an educator, you will find it powerfully persuasive to greet your new members as well as current members with the information that they can relate to. Most often our stewards have been with the company for many years. During this time they have seen and been involved with a great many matters. Such matters can be spoken to with great validity since you lived through changes, grievances and of course bargaining. Be generous with your knowledge, but do so unobtrusively and with humility.
Organizer - As an organizer, you will find need to do internal as well as external organizing. Internally, it is necessary for the members to reflect a solidarity in the eyes of the employer, an image that shows that the union is alive and well in their employees. A united front is always the only true way to impose your desires on the employer. You know the different types of power. (Perceived Power, Believed Power and True Power) The behavior in the workplace strongly suggests to the company that we take care and look out for each other so beware! "Social Signal", that component of behavior or dress that shouts solidarity without speaking a single word. This might be the wearing of our Teamsters buttons, hats or jackets. Externally, each and everyone of us needs to be on the alert for good sound leads that we can use to introduce our union to the non-union elements around us. Often, our members know a friend or relative who works non-union. As the non-union company competes with our union facilities, they can't help but to undermine our wage and benefits levels. Our union rates are much higher than non-union firms as a rule and consequently, non-union firms undercut our companies with lower bids on goods and services that they supply in direct competition with you.
Stewards Role in Filing Grievances
You most likely will be called upon to file periodic grievances. This right is to be protected but not abused and good judgment should be exercised in applying our responsibilities of providing due process. To help assess the validity of a potential grievance consider the following "Just Cause" standards.
Seven Key Tests to Just Cause:
The basic elements of just cause which different arbitrators have emphasized have been reduced by Arbitrator Carroll R. Daugherty to seven tests. These tests, in the form of questions, represent the most specifically articulated analysis of the just cause standard as well as an extremely practical approach.
A "no" answer to one or more of the questions means that just cause either was not a satisfied or at least was seriously weakened in that some arbitrary, capricious, or discriminatory element was present.
1. NOTICE: Did the Employer give to the employee forewarning or foreknowledge of the possible consequences of the employee's disciplinary conduct?
2. REASONABLE RULE OR ORDER: Was the Employer's rules or managerial order reasonably related to (a) the orderly, efficient, and safe operation of the Employer's business, and (b) the performance that the Employer might properly expect of the Employee?
3. INVESTIGATION: Did the Employer, before administering the discipline to an employee, make an effort to discover whether the employee did in fact violate or disobey a rule or order of management?
4. FAIR INVESTIGATION: Was the Employer's investigation conducted fairly and objectively?
5. PROOF: At the investigation, did the 'judge' obtain substantial evidence or proof that the employee was guilty as charged?
6. EQUAL TREATMENT: Has the Employer applied its rules, orders and penalties even -handedly and without discrimination to all employees?
7. PENALTY: Was the degree of discipline administered by the Employer in a particular case reasonably related to (a) the seriousness of the employee's proven offense, and (b) the record of the employee in his service with the Employer?
Investigating the Grievance
Take note of the basics when investigating a grievance.
Ask the 6 W's: WHO • WHAT • WHERE • WHEN • WHY • WITNESSES
Timing is everything. The sooner you look into a matter the fresher it will be in everyone's mind. Being on top of things and moving quickly to gather information is a virtue, but not however at the expense of thoroughness. Be detailed as you look into the concerns of the member. Who are the individuals involved in the case. Write them down and gather statements from them as appropriate. First hand information is strong, second hand information is weak by comparison. What exactly occurred? Remember, often times emotion will cloud the issue so take time and get the details and repeat them back for clarity. See what other members know about the case. Where the violation or infraction occurred is sometimes persuasive so be detailed. When will be important for a couple of reasons. First of all the sooner we gather information the more accurate it typically will be. But more importantly, we need to watch the time elements contained within our labor agreements. These time elements require certain processing steps in order to properly move the grievance along and if we fail to watch those time elements we could lose the right to grieve all together.
Never refuse to file a grievance. When in doubt file. If short time periods remain hand carry the grievance to management.
Determine why the grievance or event occurred and if appropriate what provisions of the labor agreement are violated. If no contract provision is obvious you can file anyway by explaining the concern itself. Interview all known witnesses as soon as possible and record their statements. Listen more than you talk and repeat back to the witness and grievant what you understand them saying.
Not all grievance matters are contract violations. Sometimes there might be a violation of a company policy, state, federal or municipal law, past practice, or a consequence of disparate treatment.
In most grievance matters our stewards and the grievant are encouraged to have a preliminary discussion with the first level of management to determine if they understand the concerns or alleged violation of either party. If this is unsuccessful then a more formal step is to follow.
Duty of Fair Representation for Stewards
1. Investigate all grievances fairly and fully.
2. Don't discriminate against your members.
3. Pay attention and adhere to the time limits in your grievance procedure.
4. Don't play favorites or act in an arbitrary manner.
5. Represent all members equally and in good faith.
6. Keep members informed.
7. Investigate, prepare and present grievances in an above-board and professional manner.
8. Don't "horse trade" grievances. Handle each grievance on its own merit.
9. Not all grievances are taken forward, particularly to arbitration. Many are unfounded, without basis in contract violation, un-winnable, lack evidence or supporting data.
Investigation Strategies for Stewards
A member approaches the steward with a grievance. What should you do?
STEP 1: LISTEN Stewards need to listen carefully to a member's problem or complaint. You might ask the member some questions and even have the member review the facts more than once. The facts may change as more information is given.
STEP 2: INFORM Let the member know how you will proceed in investigating his/her claim. Inform the members as to: time frames, delays, investigative steps, relevant contract language, similar cases, etc. Be up front and honest. Don't make promises.
STEP 3 INVESTIGATE Investigate all aspects of the case. Interview witnesses, fellow workers, supervisors, etc. Ask questions and keep a record of findings.
STEP 4: CONTRACT LANGUAGE Review the contract for relevant language. Consult your business agent if contract is unclear or silent on the issue. Check appropriate work rules, laws, letters of understanding, etc. for possible violations.
STEP 5: PROCEED OR WITHDRAW If you find a violation that may be carried further, you may wish to set up a meeting with supervision on the matter. Make all efforts to have the grievant present to verify facts. Prepare yourself and the member fully for this meeting. If no contract violation exists you may have to set up a meeting with the member and explain why he/she has no grievance. Be informative, up front and honest. Always follow up and do not leave the matter undecided. Share the discovered facts.
STEP 6: MEETING Meet with supervision to attempt settlement of the grievance informally. Settling at the lowest possible step is the preferred goal of stewards. If the case is not settled, a formal grievance may need to be filed.
STEP 7: WRITING A GRIEVANCE Formalize the grievance in writing according to the policy and wishes of your local union. Make sure all information is given on the form. Other data may be submitted to your business agent on attached sheets of paper. Make sure grievance forms are completed in full and legibly.
STEP 8: CONDUCT A steward must conduct himself/herself professionally at all times. Through preparation, good performance and honest dealing with your members you will be respected by your peers and management alike. Set a good example for your members. Do your job well and perform your duties as a steward with integrity. Throughout the grievance procedure, keep your members informed every step of the way. Good communication builds trust.
Standards of Conduct for Stewards
There is nothing so persuasive for your membership to see than being the example of what leadership should reflect. Look to the following standards for your guide:
- Model Employee
- Hard Working
Useful Links for Stewards
When all else fails...
The Union Stewards Prayer
Grant me oh Lord, the genius to explain to my brothers and sisters the policies and plans of our great Union even though no one explains them to me. Give me the understanding that I may forgive the apathetic member, curb the overly ambitious member, and accept the views of the member who does nothing until I have done something... and then tells me what I should have done and how I should have done it. Oh Lord, make me formidable in debate, logical in argument and fearless in confrontation. Let me be a lawyer, actor, mathematician, philosopher, sociologist, and economist; pleasing, cajoling, threatening, and belaboring so that I make the best of a good case and a good case from no case at all. Teach me, Oh Lord, to stand at all times with both feet firmly on the ground ….
Even when I don’t have a leg to stand on.