Role of a Steward
Stewards play an important role in the functioning of the union. Their role is multifaceted, and supports many of the union’s activities. Stewards are the first contact with the union for members and in large part that first interaction shapes member’s opinion of the union.
As a steward you are a:
Leader: Being a leader encompasses a few aspects, which are all of equal value. First and foremost, you set the example for the membership. As a leader you want to establish trust, credibility and a comfort level for members to come to you.
Building bonds with your members, requires you to understand the diversity of your membership, the cultural, racial, gender, and sexual orientation and age differences. This ensures that members realize that regardless of their background and specific issues, the union is there to represent them. The aim is to build solidarity across these lines.
It’s also important to build an effective relationship with management. You should aim to be seen as a credible and reliable counterpart. Establishing a relationship with management is critical, as the relationship is ongoing; more can be achieved when the relationship is civil, even if management makes this difficult, try to set an example for both them and your members. Remember, members need to see you as a knowledgeable and reliable resource, while management needs to see you as a credible counterpart.
Make sure that you always take time to listen. When members know you are open to listening, trust and credibility will follow. In having a close relationship with your members, it becomes easier to motivate members to take collective action on issues that concern the workplace. At the very least, raise awareness of issues other PIPSC members are facing. It’s important to create linkages between diverse workplaces on the basis of common issues. That is, members should understand that what is happening to them is not an individual issue; it is part of a larger context.
Be aware of even seemingly disengaged members. Try to understand their lack of engagement- it’s possible that some may not have an issue, while others may be discouraged or even intimidated. You can only know this when you know your members well. Lastly, be open to learning from your membership.
Educator: Educate members about PIPSC, and the ways in which the union supports them in the workplace.
Communicator: In this role you communicate the Institute’s policies, programs and official positions on issues that affect the membership. You may also want to raise awareness of any ongoing campaigns and activities the Institute is involved in.
Of course, it is critical that you are aware of concerns of PIPSC members in the workplace and that you relay that information to relevant elected officials and staff.
When relaying information make sure the message and issues are clear.
Representative: One of the key roles of a steward is to serve as first contact for members with problems and look further into members’ complaints. When necessary, you will accompany members in meetings as their union representative, and represent them in the initial steps of informal processes, and formal grievances. Remember that before proceeding to initiate the grievance, you need to decide if a member has grounds to file a grievance, and take initiative to speak with a member’s supervisor.
Lastly, you should also be politically aware. The government can pass legislation or modify contractual and social gains. PIPSC members experience this firsthand, and have been at the frontlines of cutbacks, restrictions, and generally speaking, witnesses to attempts to roll back past successes.
Daily activities of stewards:
- It is helpful to know your collective agreement thoroughly, particularly clauses that affect your members on a regular basis.
- As first contact, you will assist members in addressing and resolving workplace problems
- You may represent members at the initial steps of formal processes
- Be the local spokesperson and eyes and ears for the regional and national office. Your knowledge is essential in addressing workplace issues.
- Keeping abreast of current affairs, liaising with PIPSC, keeping members informed
- Represent members at meeting with management
- May be appointed by PIPSC to serve on a Union-Management Consultation Committee, or on an Occupational Health and Safety Committee.
- Must attend training sessions and conferences, provided by PIPSC (away from the workplace)