Union Steward

A Union Steward Is



The role of communicator runs throughout every other role of the steward. As a democratic institution, a breakdown in communication can seriously damage a union. Listed below are some of the things that the steward should do and know to fulfill the role of communicator, and suggestions as to how to do them:

How you go about it

  1. Make sure your local has its own newsletter and that everyone receives it.
  2. Talk to the members daily about the union, ask questions and listen to the responses.
  3. Become an active listener as an important way to build solidarity in your union. Active listening is one of the best methods to build solidarity in your union.
  4. Keep the union bulletin board updated. Use eye-catching fliers whenever possible


The steward has the responsibility of educating the members in his/her department, both the old and the new, about the collective bargaining agreement, union policy, and why changes occurred. Listed below are some of the things that the steward should do and know to fulfill the role of educator and suggestions as to how to do them:

How you go about it

  1. Make person to person contact daily – tell your story – ask for ideas.
  2. Distribute union periodicals and literature.
  3. Enlarge your own knowledge by attending classes whenever available and share this knowledge with your fellow members.
  4. Keep your communication lines open – invite criticism, suggestion and full discussion.


The primary negotiating task of the steward is the handling of grievances. Listed below are the things that a steward should do and know to fulfill the role of negotiator and suggestions as to how to handle them:

How you go about it

  1. Know the facts, write them down, and talk them over.
  2. Keep the people who are being affected informed on the course of action.
  3. Give credit where credit is due.
  4. Ask for advice and help. You can’t know everything.
  5. Keep your word and deal fairly and impartially.


The primary negotiating task of the steward is the handling of grievances. Listed below are the things that a steward should do and know to fulfill the role of negotiator and suggestions as to how to handle them:

How you go about it

  1. Check all available facts before taking an issue to management.
  2. Prepare your case so that it is clear, complete and to the point.
  3. Be careful to observe all contract requirements on grievance handling.
  4. In dealing with your supervisor be business-like, polite and firm.
    • Don’t bully or threaten.
    • Treat the other person with respect and demand you be treated in the same manner.
  5. Keep the grievance(s) informed as to the status o the grievance.
  6. Follow through all the way to final settlement.


Organizing the unorganized is the charge of all unionist, whether they be an international officer, local union officer, or a steward. A major task of the steward is to organize the members in his/her department. Listed below are the things the steward should know to fulfill the role of organizer and suggestions as to how to do them:

How you go about it

  1. Respect the sincerity and opinions of every worker.
  2. Treat all alike regardless of race, sex, color or political beliefs.
  3. Protect the interest of the non-union worker as diligently as you may defend the union member.
  4. Recognize that your union is a voluntary association of free men and women. Solid support can only be won through reason, persuasion and effective representation.
  5. Keep everlastingly at it.

In your role as an organizer, be sure to meet the new hire on the first day!

What do you think the new hire wants and needs to know the first day on the job?

Do you remember your “first day” on the job?

Put yourself in the new hire’s shoes! That plant or office, department, job, and everything about it are going to be NEW—STRANGE—-and just a little bit UNREAL. Remember? The new hire is going to want to know, and will be thinking about, many things. If you were the new hire, would you be thinking?

  1. Should I really be here?
  2. What’s expected of me on the job?
  3. How much “break-in” will I have before I’m on my own?
  4. Can I do the job?
  5. How will the other workers accept me?
  6. Where did they say the rest rooms and vending areas are?
  7. What should I remember about what the Boss told me? The Union rep?
  8. 8. By the way, I wonder what a union rep really looks like? After all, I don’t know much about unions.

That first day is so rough that most people remember it for the rest of their lives! The first day is when the new hire needs a friendly “welcome” Remember?

Tips For Face-To-Face Contact

  1. Introduce yourself.Have some piece of information to give or leave with the worker to break the ice.
  2. Make eye contact.
  3. Contact at the right time.Do not contact an employee during normal work hours – catch them during break, lunch, or before or after work.
  4. Be yourself.Smile, relax, use the kind of language you use every day.
  5. Be polite.If a worker refuses to talk to you, don’t get into an argument; tell the person you’ll catch them another time (do follow up).
  6. Be frank.If you get a question that you can’t answer, don’t try to bluff. Tell the person you will try to get the answer.
  7. Don’t preach.You should talk about the issue to help lead the person to his or her own conclusion. This is a much more effective approach than a hard sell.
  8. Listen.Listen to what the worker says – it will give you insight into their particular concerns and objections. Sometimes the best way to convince a person is just by listening and letting them know that the union cares what they think.

Political Activist

The steward has the responsibility to make the members aware of political affairs that effect their livelihood and social well-being, including keeping them informed as to legislation that affects the collective bargaining process and climate. the steward should also become involved in politics by helping on campaigns of labor-endorsed candidates. Listed below are the things the steward should do and know to fulfill the role of political activist and suggestions as to how to do them:

How you go about it

  1. Read newspapers and union literature, The Legislative Alerts SPFPA puts out on our website, and your international paper, so that you understand the issues from a labor perspective.
  2. Attend education programs that address the issues.
  3. Volunteer to work on a phone bank, knock on doors, stuff envelopes or pass out fliers for a labor endorsed candidate.
  4. Organize letter writing campaigns to your representatives on important labor issues.
  5. Keep the grievance(s) informed as to the status of the grievance.
  6. Participate in “actions” organized by your union, such as rallies and marches.


The steward has the responsibility to make the members aware of political affairs that effect their livelihood and social well-being, including keeping them informed as to legislation that affects the collective bargaining process and climate. the steward should also become involved in politics by helping on campaigns of labor-endorsed candidates. Listed below are the things the steward should do and know to fulfill the role of political activist and suggestions as to how to do them:

Signing up the non-member

The Service Model of Unionism exists throughout our union and the other unions in the U.S. labor movement today. Among other things, this model has produced a passive union member whose role has been defined as primarily a consumer of union services.

The everyday business carried out by the relatively few activists revolves around negotiations and the grievance and arbitration process. These are the apparent means by which wages, hours, benefits, and fair treatment on the job are insured by the union activists.

The way contracts are negotiated and grievances are handled does not require communication with the members, nor does it require direct participation of the members. Thus, the union members and nonmembers become consumers of services provided by the union activists, with the difference being, of course, that the nonmember does not pay for those services.

There are several reasons members do not sign up nonmembers: first, often they don’t know who is a member or nonmember; second, they don’t want to confront someone who is their friend and co-worker; and third, the member may feel that the nonmember, who is getting something for nothing, is the smarter consumer.

To successfully involve our members and also sign up nonmembers, we must change the Service Model into an Organizing Model which communicates, educates, and involves the members and the nonmembers in the everyday affairs of the union.

SPFPA experiences show that to successfully close the ranks, and keep them closed, the union must be viewed as the members and not a small group of activists; and the services in terms of a contract and the grievance and arbitration procedure must be viewed as those things which are won via the involvement of all the members in active struggle against the employer.

As a steward, this means you should seek ways to involve the members and nonmembers in active support of certain grievances. Once a nonmember is involved and aware of the power of collective action, he or she may then be convinced to become a member. (For an in-depth discussion of types of active support and the organizing model of grievance handling, see Section 4 of this manual.)

Probably the most important day-to-day job of the SPFPA steward is to reach and maintain 100 percent membership in the union and to build pride and trust in SPFPA. When every eligible worker is a member, SPFPA will be a stronger, more effective union – able to solve workplace problems and negotiate better contracts.

Answers To Objections About Joining The Union

Possible Answers:

“Right, you get all that the rest of us get. But we could get so much more if we didn’t have nonmembers. Aren’t you interested in further gains? Well, these can be won only if enough of us want them and are willing to work to get them.”

“If every worker felt as you do, we would have no union at all to bargain for us or to represent us in grievances. The longer you remain a nonmember, the more difficult it is for the union to improve your wages and working conditions.”

“ Here is a card. Won’t you sign it so that you too can help to make possible the improvements we are all entitled to?”

“If everyone belonged, the benefits would be greater and the cost would be spread among more people.”

“ As a nonmember, you are automatically on the side of the employer against the union at the bargaining table – you are agreeing with them that the demands made by the union are not proper, and that you are not entitled to any improvement in wages or working conditions. I’m sure you want to join with us to help make improvements possible rather than be counted as one who is against better wages and working conditions.”

“ The union needs you. Your involvement and participation will make the union more effective. By not being a member, you miss the sense of belonging, the friendship, the feeling of being fully accepted by your fellow workers.”

“ Each person has an obligation to share equally the cost of supporting the organization that wins the benefits. It’s just downright unfair to accept benefits that others are paying for. Suppose your next door neighbors paid no taxes on a house and yet sent their children to the public schools and used the roads and other public services. Would this be fair? Of course it wouldn’t. Nor is it fair for a person to realize all the benefits of unionism and not pay a fair share of the cost of gaining these benefits. ”

  1.  As a nonmember, you have no vote and no voice in contract ratification or in election of representatives.”
  2.  “I can’t afford to join. I’ve got a family to support and my check just isn’t big enough.” Or, “The dues are too high.”

Possible Answers:

“You can’t afford not to belong. It doesn’t cost to belong to the union. It pays in the form of job security, better wages, and improved benefits.”

“Everything of value has a price. What you should do is to compare the value of a thing with the price you have to pay for it. If we do this with the union dues, I’m sure you will agree that union dues are a sound investment.”

“Compare the cost with your returns on this investment. Your return each year is far greater than the annual dues. And understand, we’re just talking about wage increases here. We haven’t begun to talk about the advantages of increased job security, seniority, better working conditions, such things as this. These are all extras that you get in return for your dues investment.”

“Did you ever stop to think how much less money you’d be making if it were not for the union? I’m sure that neither you nor I could afford to work for this employer at what we would make without a union. If it weren’t for SPFPA, our wages would be far less than they are, and we would receive no fringe benefits. You owe it to yourself as well as to us to set aside a small portion of your higher wages to help raise wages even higher in the years ahead.”

“You say you have a family to support. You owe it to your family, above all, to be a member of a union that ensures job security, wage increases, and fringe benefits. Your family benefits directly from all of these.”

If the nonmember makes a specific reference to an inability to pay bills, mention the counseling service of the union (if this is available) and how union members with financial problems are afforded help.

If the nonmember pleads debt problems, mention the availability of the credit union, if you have one, and how a union member can borrow money at lower interest rates than are obtainable from a bank or finance company. 3. “I don’t believe in unions.”

Possible Answers:

Point out what unions have done historically. Describe how things were in American industry before unions. Workers were fired at the whim of management or arbitrarily at the age of 40. Describe the extremely low wages, long hours, no fringe benefits, no unemployment compensation, no social security, no workers’ compensation. Stress not only the contract gains but also the efforts of labor to enact better laws and create better communities.

“Unions are just associations of people banded together for mutual protection and benefit. Everyone – farmers, merchants, bankers, lawyers, utility companies – everyone joins together today to increase their effectiveness. Why not workers?”

The newspapers do their best to make unions look bad, and this is understandable since employers spend a lot of money on ads. But prove things for yourself – join us, come to our meetings, and then decide whether unions are good or bad.”

Try to find out the specific reason behind this objection, and then try to correct the false impression the employee has. 4. “I don’t need a union; the employer is fair. The employer will take care of us without a union. I get along fine with my boss. What has the union gotten for us that we wouldn’t have gotten anyway?”

Possible Answers:

“This is a good place to work now, and the union played a big part in making this so. But of course, this is no reason why we shouldn’t try to make it an even better place to work. Your job has been made more pleasant and secure because of the union representation afforded you on the job. Your supervisor has to treat you fairly since the contract requires that he or she do so. The employer is fair because the union is always looking over its shoulder. Even so, almost every employee at one time or another has a grievance or complaint. That’s where the union comes in.”

Rely on history, and point out the job security clause in the contract including the final step of arbitration. Explain about conditions of work, including low wages and poor working conditions before SPFPA. You might want to call in an older worker to give a firsthand account. Discuss the history of bargaining in the specific bargaining unit. You might contrast the first offers of the employer versus the final settlement and show the difference in terms of cents per hour or dollars per year. Point out that the employer often admits that the union forces them to grant more than they would like to grant. You might want to use a prepared sheet showing union gains over the years. Also point out specific grievances the union has won (use cases that you personally are familiar with).

“The employer will treat you well so long as this is the profitable thing for them to do. But you’re like the rest of us. We’re merely numbers on a page. There’s no room for sentiment or humanity in this employer or any other giant firm today. The union provides protection from arbitrary and unfair treatment by the employer.”

“You never know when you might need the help of the union. The union has been able to get a clause in the contract that assures employees fair treatment if the need should ever arise. If too many people felt the way you feel, there would be no union and no protection for anyone.”

Point out that very frequently personality clashes arise between employees and supervisors. Ask: “What would you do if this should happen to you? What would you be able to do to help yourself if the employer fired or demoted or otherwise mistreated you?”

“Individuals may not know their rights under the law and under the contract. In today’s complex world, organizations of all sorts are necessary to achieve any important objectives. This is the reason for the union. The union has to be able to bargain from strength in order to adequately protect employees from arbitrary treatment, to get better wages, longer vacations, more adequate pensions, and so on.”

Point to the article in the contract which makesSPFPA the sole bargaining agent. This means that the employer as well as the government recognizes that only SPFPA is able to speak for all of the employees. The employees can’t by law deal directly with the employer.[/vc_toggle][vc_toggle title=”5. “I’m only going to be working here a short while (on a temporary or part-time job)””]

Possible Answers:

“Even if you do leave within a few months, you are receiving all the benefits that all the rest of us pay for while you are here, and we think it only right that you pay your share while you remain on the job. ”

“While you are with us, we want you to be one of us. We want you to fit in with the group and be an equal. You will enjoy it more and we will enjoy having you.”

“ Whether you stay here six months or thirty years, you’ll get full benefits and full protection while you are employed.”

“ Who knows, you might decide to stay on, or you might decide to return a year or five years from now. You know that we have a leave of absence and job return policy. You can get a withdrawal card from the union if you do decide to leave. ”

“6. “My spouse would divorce me.“ Or, “My parents don’t like unions.“”

Possible Answers:

Find out why the spouse or parent objects. Offer to sit down and talk things over. Offer to go home that very evening with the nonmember to discuss the matter with the relative. (House calls are very successful.)

“Your (husband, wife, father, etc.) lets you work and accepts your contribution to the household. They should let you do your part to make your job more pleasant and better paying. You’re the one who is working on the job. You put up with the working conditions. You get the paycheck. You know better than anyone else whether a union is good for you. Let me visit your home and discuss this matter with you and your family this very evening.”

“7. “The union doesn’t do anything for you (as in, grievances are not settled satisfactorily).“ Or, “I don’t like the people who are running things in the union.“”]

Possible Answers:

Insist upon specifics – the specific grievance the nonmember has in mind. Check out the problem, obtain the facts, and report back to the nonmember. Concede that the union can make mistakes, but point out that many grievances have been won, again being specific.

“Officers and stewards do their jobs the best way they know how. If you or someone you know has not been treated fairly, tell us about it so that it can be remedied.”

“Your local officers and stewards work for this employer just as you and I do. They need lots of training, experience, and help from you to do the job well. Your signature on this card will give you the right and the opportunity to help in running this union better.” Point out that the members have an obligation to replace those officers and stewards who continue to do their job poorly.

“You are the union. You can get involved and run for office to help change the things you don’t like.”

Enumerate the contract benefits – choice of hours, vacations, sick benefits. Remind the nonmember that these didn’t come automatically.

Discuss the need to use the grievance procedure properly. Frequently some of the complaints we have about grievances occur because the proper procedure was not followed.

“Hundreds of grievances are settled satisfactorily. But with 100 percent membership, we could do an even better job of investigating and processing grievances.”

“8. “I can’t afford to strike. How can I be sure I won’t be out on strike? I don’t believe in strikes.“”

Possible Answers:

“It’s up to the members to decide whether to strike. Of course, if you’re not a union member you will have no say whatsoever in the matter.”

“When unions are weak, employers force them to strike or else accept low wages or poor working conditions. But if unions are big enough to hurt the employer in a strike, management will offer more and thereby avoid a strike. In short, if workers are unified, a strike is less likely.”

“Strikes are very infrequent in this union.”

“Year after year, less than one-fifth of one percent of all working time is lost by strikes. Now this is only a small fraction of the time lost through layoffs or industrial accidents or other sickness. You read in the newspaper about strikes because, of course, strikes are news. You never read in the newspapers about the hundreds and thousands of negotiations that are settled without the necessity of a strike. What I’m trying to say is that strikes are really very unusual.”

“9. “I can handle my own affairs. I can take care of myself. I’ll make my own decisions. I don’t intend to stay on this job forever; I’m looking for a promotion.“”]

Possible Answers:

“This may be true, but the chances are that you might need help somewhere along the way. Besides, all your fellow employees aren’t as fortunate. They need help. They need your help.”

“You are working in a large industry and necessarily are a cog in a very large machine. Unless you fit into this machine, you are not a desirable employee, so your future depends in large part on your ability to get along with everyone, including your fellow workers.”

“10. “My religion doesn’t permit me to belong to any outside organization.“”

Possible Answers:

“I’ve never heard of a faith that bars membership in a union. I would like to discuss this matter with you and with your pastor so that we can clear up any misunderstandings. Unions have always worked closely with churches. Our goals are similar: to help our fellow human beings.”

Follow through on this. Contact the pastor or minister. Verify the church’s policy and report back to the nonmember.

“Your religion and all other religions teach you to love your neighbor, to be responsible for your brother’s welfare. And that is what the union is designed to do. There is no conflict between the goals of unions and religions.”

11. “My boss doesn’t believe in unions. I’ve seen what happens to union members.

Possible Answers:

“It used to be that many supervisors didn’t like unions, but most of these have either changed their ways or have been transferred.”

“At one time, supervisors were virtual dictators with power to hire or fire you on the spot. Now they must live up to the contract and treat people with respect. If a supervisor can’t do this, management will get rid of them.”

“The law, the contract, and public policy guarantee you the right to join and engage in union activity.”

12. “I don’t want anything to do with unions. They’re all corrupt.”

Possible Answers:

“The officers of the local union and I will be glad to sit down with you anytime, any place, and tell you everything you might want to know about SPFPA and answer any questions you might have. After you’ve learned some of the history of the union and how it operates, I’m sure you will want to become a member of SPFPA.”

“What do you need to know about SPFPA? SPFPA is a large union; it is honestly run; it is efficient; and it is democratic.”

13.  “I’m not interested. I just don’t want to join.”

Possible Answers:

“You can’t afford not to be interested in the union. What happens in the union and between the union and the employer affects you; it affects all employees. Contract negotiations, grievances, etc., concern everyone in one way or another.”

It might be necessary to go into a general explanation of the reasons people join unions.

SPFPA Steward Training Video