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Steward Teamwork

Union people preach the word solidarity but forget to put it into practice in common sense ways -- Solidarity as members, solidarity as a union, and solidarity as stewards.

By that I mean, stewards need to act and think in concert, together. If you are going to get the basic job done, you need help and support. We are each other's best resources.

Let's start with a real life case. Someone in the late shift is brought into the supervisor's office to be questioned about some missing piece of equipment. There is no steward on duty in the shop but there is another steward available in the next building. Your contract clearly says that the union has a right be present in any meeting with management which may be disciplinary in nature. The member exercises her right and asks for a shop steward. The employer calls for the steward next door.

If you are that steward, you need to be professional and understanding of all the contract groups on the property. That means a steward who is also a mechanic should be well-versed enough to represent fleet service members if needed. Stewards representing bus operators may be called in to represent a coach cleaner.

We are a Union which gives us strength. It also comes with a great deal of responsibility and that means representing all our brothers and sisters.

So here are a few points which should make the job easier.

  1. Know the contract and work rules as they apply to all of the groups represented on the property. In most cases, a steward may be called upon to represent another craft in an emergency situation such as I described above. These disciplinary situations are governed by rules that usually apply across job titles so that you can easily represent a member from a different craft than your own.

  2. Make sure the members know who is covering each shift so that do not go unrepresented. Post the names and shifts on the union bulletin board; give out small hand cards; and communicate that information in your newsletter.

  3. Members must also know their rights to representation so that management cannot use the old trick that there was no appropriately titled steward on duty to call in. Stewards are like deputies in the old movie westerns. They all have the badge and the authority to speak for the union in these matters.

  4. Stewards should talk to each other. If someone comes to a steward who is covering another group, that steward should inform the other steward so that they work out a proper strategy for representing the member. Sharing information is critical to proper representation of the membership.

  5. Stewards should have regular group meetings with the chief steward and other union officers to iron out troublesome issues and keep the union informed about problem areas. This can also prevent different stewards taking up the issue from the same member. Nothing can destroy the union's credibility more quickly than if one steward files a grievance over an issue in which another steward saw no merit.

  6. Stewards should develop a consistent voice. This does not mean we have to agree on everything. But when it comes to grievance issues, all stewards should follow the union policy on procedures, grievance processing, and case management. Employers will pounce on a steward if they know that person misses time limits or handles certain types of grievances inappropriately.

No steward should feel that he or she is out there alone. It is the local's responsibility to keep its stewards informed, connected, and of course, trained. The best way to accomplish this goal is through regular stewards' meeting.

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Copyright 1999 Transit Employees Association of Texas.