Mistakes to Avoid

Because you have a right – indeed a need – to use your own best judgment means that you will make mistakes. No one avoids all mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that you need to make all of them yourself. Here are some common ones to avoid.

It’s a mistake to . . .

REPRESENT UNFAIRLY OR UNEQUALLY

Not only does it expose the union to legal action, it’s just not the right thing to do. It undermines the whole purpose of the union and the very idea of union solidarity.

MAKE BACKROOM DEALS

Management is notorious for trying to get stewards to trade grievances. “I’ll let you have this case if you drop the one we talked about yesterday” is a favorite refrain. Every member deserves a fair shake and every grievance needs to be evaluated on its own merit. Never agree to anything with management that you would be uncomfortable telling your entire membership about.

PROMISE REMEDIES TOO QUICKLY

You are hurting both the member and your credibility if you pass judgment on a grievance prior to a thorough investigation. Only after you have spoken to the grievant and witnesses and consulted the contract are you in a position to make that determination. No steward should ever promise victory.

FAIL TO SPEAK WITH NEW WORKERS

The most important way a union gains the support of a new member or potential new member is by one-on-one contact with the steward. You not only want to provide the new workers with information, you need to build a personal relationship and begin to get them involved in union activities from their first day on the job.

FAIL TO ADHERE TO TIME LINES

Even the strongest, iron-clad case can be lost if you fail to follow the time line specified in your contract. If you do get a formal extension of time limits, be sure to get it in writing.

LET GRIEVANCES GO UNFILED

Every grievance that goes unfiled undermines the contract that you struggled so hard to win. While most members see changes and problems only in terms of the impact on them, the steward needs to be able to understand a grievance’s impact on the contract and the union as a whole.

MEET WITH MANAGEMENT ALONE

When you meet with management alone, suspicions may arise as to what kinds of deals you are making. It also allows management to lie or change its story. More important, when stewards meet with management alone, it takes away an opportunity for members to participate in the union and to understand that it’s really their organization.

FAIL TO GET SETTLEMENTS IN WRITING

Just as you should protect yourself by not meeting with management alone, be sure to get grievance settlements in writing. Putting the settlement in writing helps clarify the issues and keeps management from backing down on its deal.

FAIL TO PUBLICIZE VICTORIES

Publicizing each and every victory is an important way to build your local union. This publicity not only has a chilling effect on the employer but helps educate your members about their contractual rights.

FAIL TO ORGANIZE

Stewards are much more than grievance handlers. They’re the local’s mobilizers, who should be talkin’ and fightin’ union all the time. Each and every grievance and incident must be looked at in terms of how it can increase participation, and build the union.