A strong shop steward can make the difference between a strong workplace union and a weak workplace union. Shop stewards need to be honest, think critically, and be willing to take positions that are fair - which can be unpopular both with management and with unit members, Local 2's best shop stewards aren't necessarily those who have years of experience. Some of our best shop stewards simply have the qualities mentioned earlier.
If you're nominated to be a shop steward, or you've already been elected to be a shop steward, you might not know what you're getting into. In reading the responsibilities listed below, you might feel overwhelmed. Don't sweat it; you're not expected to know everything. That said, establish a network of support: Keep in regular contact with your staff representative and any other shop stewards at your workplace. Attend Local 2 shop steward trainings. We at Local 2 will support and invest in you in any way we can.
What shop stewards need to do
Shop stewards are absolutely invaluable to creating strong workplace unions. The following is a list of shop steward responsibilities composed by OPEIU. If you're not sure how to do any of these things, don't worry. Reach out to your staff representative:
Know your contract, the grievance process.
Know your workplace. Know your employer's policies and rules. Understand the relationships between your coworkers and management. Keep your ears to the ground on workplace changes.
Know what's happening with Local 2. Understand Local 2's policies and bylaws. Attend Local 2 quarterly membership meetings to find out what’s happening and to participate in decisions. Report back to your coworkers on Local 2 news, meetings, events and trainings.
Listen to what members say and ask. You don’t have to be an expert in everything, but always get back to folks. Members need to trust you.
Greet every new member and welcome him or her to your union. The sooner the better.
Keep in regular contact with your staff representative. You don't need an excuse to reach out.
Hold regular unit meetings, even if it’s just an informal brown bag get-together over lunch or coffee. Discuss what's happening in your workplace. Ask for members to give their thoughts.
Strive for 100% union membership in your workplace. Get help from your coworkers to make this happen. You can’t do this alone.
Encourage members to read and understand your Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). You can hold lunchtime meetings during which you collectively read through a few articles of your CBA. You'll be surprised at the questions and information that members have.
When coworkers identify problems, help them find their own solutions and voices. You're not a Problem Solver. In fact, you want to empower your members so that they become leaders.
Involve members. Many of the above responsibilities can be done by other members: Greeting new employees, organizing lunchtime readings of your CBA, and pointing out CBA violations.
You are a leader. Be a responsible and credible employee. You’re setting an example.
Don’t hesitate to stand up to management. When you’re representing a member, and working on union business, you are management’s equal. You have power; use it.
Represent all members fairly. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the law.
If you see a violation of the contract or an injustice in the workplace, act on it — don’t wait for someone to complain.
This section provides more specifics on the "Be informed" category above. Why? Because the truth is that a lot of the responsibilities listed above are easier to accomplish when you know your contract; the grievance process; your employer's policies and rules; your coworkers; and your union's policies, bylaws, programs and activities. Again: Don't hesitate to reach out to your staff representative to help understand any of these.
Know your contract
What is says, what it means, how it protects you and your coworkers
Where to find key provisions
How to get contracts into the hands of members
Examine based on your experiences and be prepared to recommend changes
Know the grievance process
Explore ways to settle problems without having to file a grievance
Know where to find the grievance process described in your contract
Follow the procedures carefully and be especially aware of timelines
Know your employer's policies and rules
Watch bulletin boards, check emails and other places notices are posted
Read your organization’s newsletters, emails and other communications
Have current copies of the policies and procedures and any handbooks
Learn about any statutory rules or regulations impacting your industry
Know your coworkers
Learn about their work and working conditions
Know the various departments, job classifications and other details
Keep an updated email or phone list of coworkers to more easily mobilize
Know your fellow union leaders and look for potential leaders
Know your union's policies and bylaws
Know your union’s constitution and bylaws
Know your union’s policies that impact the membership
Know how union decision-making works
Know your union's programs and activities
Know where and when membership meetings take place