Learn what a union steward does
Stewards play a vital part in building a stronger union. They have two fundamental roles:
- Make sure working conditions reflect the collective agreement
Without a steward, the collective agreement is just paper. A steward’s job is to bring it to life.
How? By making sure management follows all the clauses that your union negotiated in bargaining. Stewards deal with complaints, investigate and settle grievances, and ensure that working conditions live up to the contract. Stewards combine knowledge with practice to solve problems and build healthier, happier workplaces.
- Connect members to each other – and to the union.
Stewards act as hubs for union networking in the workplace. Direct contact with members helps connect them to their union – and to each other. For many union members, a steward might be the only actual contact they have with their local union and the wider labour movement. That’s why a steward’s ability to engage and connect with members is essential – from casual face-to-face contact to local meetings to regular communication like newsletters and updates on websites and social media.
When members are connected, they participate. More participation builds stronger unions and better working conditions for all.
Check out these videos on stewardship:
Gordon Bulmer, PIPSC talks about stewarding.
Laurie Antonin, Teamsters
Skills for Stewards
Stewards require good organizational, communication and educational skills. We are all different and have different strengths and weaknesses. There is no one single personality style that makes for a good steward, but there definitely are certain skills which everyone will need to be a good steward.
These are: organizational skills, educational skills and communications skills.
Being a good organizer is essential and requires a blend of skills and qualities that balances getting things done while building connection with your members.
Tips for good organizing:
- Make it easy for members to participate and welcome all forms of support, no matter how “active” a member is
- Foster teamwork and lead by involving members in activities and planning
- Keep things simple and tackle the biggest problems one step at a time
- Keep things fun
Prepare yourself! Learn with courses and workshops provided by your union, your local labour council, your provincial labour federation or the CLC. You’ll find learning opportunities on everything from Steward Training to Union Organizing to Bargaining and Negotiation to Women’s and Human Rights. Dive in!
- Study your collective agreement, union bylaws and constitution
- Be a good teacher by treating your members respectfully and sharing information freely
- Learn from your members’ knowledge and support their learning journeys
The first step to good communication skills is to develop good listening skills. If you listen carefully to those around you, people will pay more attention to what you have to say when you do speak. Your members will feel heard and respected, and this is vital to building the relationship with them and engaging them in the life of the union.
Better listening builds connection:
- Go for the connection – not the hard-sell
- Listen to what is being said – not for what you want to hear
- Try not to argue or be defensive
- Reflect back what you hear
Of course, all of this doesn’t mean you can’t learn on the job and hone your skills as you grow into your role. But all three of these skill-sets are essential to the job stewards do.