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Tool Box

Roles and Responsibilities


excerpt from the Steward's Handbook

For many members, the Steward is the face of the union. The Steward is the visible presence of the union in the workplace as the union officer who works with and interacts with the members at the workplace and represents them in a specific work area. The Steward enforces the collective agreement and protects the rights members have acquired through negotiations and other union actions. Stewards are elected or appointed within the Local.

The Steward is not alone in the Local. Along with other Stewards, they form the "Stewards' Network." The Stewards' Network gives the union its strength and puts the union on an equal level with management. 

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 at the worksite 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.

In carrying out your duties as a Steward you come in contact with people - workers / members, supervisors, and management. In the Local, you will work with other Stewards, the Chief Steward, and the Local Executive. If you are involved in PSAC committees and courses, you will be in contact with other PSAC activists.

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);  standing up to management when the union has a point to be made;
  • Be Efficient and Effective: securing the facts and seeking justice in a fair manner with the least delay possible;
  • Be Knowledgeable: knowing and understanding the collective agreement, the acts and regulations, the PSAC Constitution and Policies, your Component By-laws and the Local By-laws;  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 is 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.

Know how government policies and legislation affect you as a citizen, a taxpayer, a worker, and as a union member. Share this information with your members.

Encourage participation in regional committees and various community campaigns that affect members as unionists, workers, and part of the community.

Be a Communicator

Make sure everyone reads notices on the bulletin boards and are informed about management'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 or agency.

Listen to the problems which concern your members and be prepared to listen to personal success stories. If you are interested in the members as individuals they will be interested in you, and through you, the union.

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.

When you find the answer through discussion and reading, go back to the worksite and fight the case yourself. By doing so you will gain the confidence and respect of your members and of management.

What You Need To Know

  1. 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 the precedent cases are.
  2. Know management policies and directives. Watch bulletin boards and read all the notices. Where Treasury Board is the employer, reference Treasury Board Directives and Policies and the Personnel Management Manual (PMM). The Local may have a copy of the manual. The Regional Office will have a copy for reference purposes. Request a copy from management or, at least, access to a copy. Nowadays, updates on the PMM are only found on the Internet. It is important to have access to the Internet through the employer, the Component and PSAC Regional Offices.
  3. Labour Legislation:  Have a basic understanding of the labour legislation which applies to your members. Obtain your own copy of this legislation. Contact the PSAC Regional Office and/or Component Service Officers for technical advice and interpretation regarding relevant legislation.
  4. Present Working Conditions:  Know your work area and how things should be working. Be aware of conditions that may result in management's violation of clauses in your collective agreement, or of safety regulations. Do something about it before an accident occurs.
  5. Supervisors:  Get to know your supervisors and how they manage.
  6. Members:  Talk to the members you represent and get to know them as individuals. Ask about their jobs and where they fit in the organizational chart.
  7. 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.
  8. Component and PSAC Policies:  Know your resource people both at the Component and PSAC level. Attend Area Council and, where possible, other Regional Committee meetings, component regional seminars, other union activities and seminars in your region. Read the minutes of the Local meetings, Component meetings and the minutes of the National Board of Directors' meetings of the PSAC. Read the union literature: Union Update, Component newsletter, etc. Get a public relations kit and read it, it's free. 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 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 contact 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. Obtain your own copy of the collective agreement.
  2. Legislation:  Have your own copy of the legislation under which your local is covered and learn a basic understanding of its content.
  3. A list of the Members You Represent:  Their home addresses and phone numbers, their occupational group, the section and division which they come under. It is useful to have an organizational chart of the sections and divisions you represent.
  4. Membership Applications: As a union organizer, you will want to be prepared when new workers start to work in your area.
  5. 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.
  6. Grievance Forms and Transmittal Forms:  These are most often available at the Personnel Division of your employer. 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.
  7. "Notification of Appeal" Forms: For members who fall under the Public Service Employment Act. Know the address and phone number of the resource person at the Component and/or the PSAC Regional Office which is responsible to provide your Local with union representation. Get the information down and quickly refer the member who wishes to file an appeal to the appropriate union representative. Time limits run out on you very quickly.
  8. A List of Your Local Executive:  With their addresses and phone numbers at home and at work.
  9. A List of Stewards in Your Local:  With their addresses and phone numbers at home and at work.
  10. A List of Resource People:  At the Component 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.
  11. 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.
  12. PSAC Policies: A policy is a statement which outlines a definite course of action selected to guide and determine present and future decisions on major areas of concern. 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, telework, Women and the Alliance and many more. For more information, reference the published document "Policy Papers and Resolutions of Record."

Last, but not least - The Steward's Handbook.

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