The Role of Shop Stewards

adapted from the Steward's Handbook

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. Read over past grievances to find out how the clauses have been interpreted and what are the precedent cases.
  • Know management policies and directives. Watch bulletin boards and read all the notices.
  • Labour Legislation: Have a basic understanding of the New Brunswick Industrial Relations Act. Obtain your own copy of this legislation. Contact the PSAC Regional Office for technical advice and interpretation regarding relevant legislation.
  • Present Working Conditions: Know your work area and how things should be working. Be aware of conditions that may result in administration's violation of clauses in your collective agreement, or of safety regulations. Do something about it before an accident occurs.
  • Members: Talk to the members you represent and get to know them as individuals. Ask about their jobs and duties as a TA or RA.
  • Local Union Activities and By-Laws: Attend Local meetings and Stewards' Committee meetings. Listen to what is being said. Know your Local By-laws and keep your own copy.
  • PSAC Policies: Know your resource people at the PSAC level. Read the minutes of the Local meetings; Read the union literature: Union Update. Attend Union weekend courses and apply for PSAC advanced courses.

Now, sit back and relax. No one expects you to learn all this information today, or even tomorrow. A basic understanding of the issues at hand and with it a growing expertise as you perform your job is what is required.

Remember: If you don't know the answer just say so, the important part is that you find the answer through asking questions yourself and that you get back to the member in a reasonable period of time with the information.

What You Need To Have

In order to perform your job well you will need your "tools" with you. Have a place at work where you will have ready access to:

    1. Your Collective Agreement: Having a general knowledge of the contract is necessary, but when answering a question about the contract, you must look at the entire article, word-by-word, its relation to other articles in the contract and its relation to the contract as a whole.
    2. Legislation: Have your own copy of the New Brunswick Industrial Relations Act under which your local is covered and; learn a basic understanding of its content.
    3. A list of the Members You Represent: Their office numbers and e-mails, maybe even phone numbers.
    4. Steward Fact Sheets, Pencils and Paper: When you are approached with a request, complaint, grievance or appeal, get the information down on the Steward Fact Sheet immediately. Don't rely on your memory or the member's memory for details. Ensure that you have a good supply of the Steward Fact Sheets on hand.
    5. Grievance Forms and Transmittal Forms:Time limits have a habit of running out on you before you know it. Be prepared. If a form is not in use or is not available, a letter is equally valid.
    6. A List of Your Local Executive: With their office locations and phone numbers at home and at work.
    7. A List of Stewards in Your Local: With their office locations and phone numbers at home and at work.
    8. A List of Resource People: At the Regional and at the PSAC levels and in your community, with addresses and phone numbers, as well as a brief description of the services they provide.
    9. The Public Service Alliance Constitution, Your Component By-Laws and the Local By-Laws:A question about union policies and procedures can best be answered with the facts in front of you.
    10. PSAC Policies: Over the years, the Alliance has established a number of policy statements which deal with topics such as safety and health, personal/sexual harassment, human rights, pay and employment equity, technological change, Women and the Alliance and many more. For more information, reference the Policy Papers list.
    11. Last, but not least The Steward's Handbook.

Upon request, the PSAC offers its publications in alternate format (large type, RTF format, etc). If you need any document referred to on this website in any format, contact your chief steward, or a union local executive member.

Grievance Transmittal Form 46.97 KB
Steward Factsheet 50.13 KB
NB Industrial Relations Act 508.89 KB