Congratulations on being a UFCW Steward. The job of a Steward is the most challenging, most rewarding and most important job in our Union. That’s because you are on the front lines of our fight to protect our members’ rights and bring fair and decent treatment to the workplace.
Stewards have an immeasurable impact on the members’ faith and belief in the Union. In the eyes of most UFCW members, you are the Union. The Steward is the one person our members see every day when they go to work. Members and non-members alike form their opinions about the Union’s effectiveness based, in large part, on the actions of their Steward. Those opinions then have a rippled effect. They play a big part in your co-workers’ decision to support the Union and become more active.
A Union’s strength comes from good, old fashioned hard work. It comes from you, the Steward, carrying out a number of roles: leader, organizer, communicator, representative, educator and problem solver. By performing these Steward tasks, you will gain the confidence and respect of your co-workers. You will earn management’s respect. Our Union – your Union – will be stronger and better able to protect workers’ rights and fight for improvements in wages, hours, working conditions and quality of life on the job.
There is a cliché that says “the Steward is the backbone of the Union”. This is one time when a cliché is right on the money. You are the backbone of our Union.
Thank you for taking up the challenges that confront our Union. Take great pride in being a UFCW Steward.
Anthony M. Helfer
Rules of the Road
It makes no difference whether you’re in your first day as a Steward or your third decade, whether you were appointed by the local leadership or elected by your co-workers – you’ve got the job. There are a lot of people depending on you to protect their interests and defend the guarantees outlined in the contract.
Sometimes it is easy to get overwhelmed. To be an effective advocate for the union and the contract you must:
Keep your enthusiasm – Don’t let the naysayers discourage you. You have every right to be enthusiastic about being a steward.
Adopt a learning attitude – All the confidence in the world can’t make up for learning the contract, past practices and the way the union operates.
Use an organizing approach – The whole point of the union movement is power in numbers – working with others to achieve common goals. A very important skill is to organize and mobilize the members you represent.
Be willing to do the right thing – Since the right thing is not always the comfortable or popular thing, you need determination and thick skin.
Learn to deal with red tape – There are forms to be completed. Supervisors who have to check with Supervisors, who have to check with Supervisors must be dealt with. Red tape will always be around, you must use it, cut through it or go around it – always to the union’s advantage.
Maintain a sense of humor – Take the issues seriously, but not yourself. There will be heavy weather. If you can’t laugh at yourself, laugh at management and with your co-workers.
Distinguish between expectations and reality – Often times unmet expectations make a steward feel confused and stressed out and create a feeling of doubt about themselves. Remember, you won’t win every grievance, not everyone will tell you what a great job you do and understanding a contract is not always easy.
Always be level-headed and honest – Keeping your cool under pressure with both management and workers speaks volumes to fellow members. Telling a straight story even when knowing the audience may not like the ending establishes a mutual respect.
Deal with small problems before they become big ones – Bringing a problem to the attention of the members will create an army of watchdogs alerted to possible grievances down the road.
Demand equality with management when performing union work – Under the National Labor Relations Act when engaged in representational activities, stewards and union officers are considered to be equals with management. NOTE – you are not protected if your conduct is “outrageous” or “indefensible”.