Chapter 1 – Introduction to Steward Training

Table of Contents

Council #15 Labor Education


American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations

13 Million Members


American Federation State County Municipal Employees

1.3 Million Members

Council #15


Represents Municipal Police Officers in the State of Connecticut

Nearly 4,000 members

Local Union


Represents Local Police Officers by Town/City

55 Locals in Council #15

Council #15 Labor Education


  • Stewards must have Credibility, be able to listen, and motivate its membership.
  • Stewards must not only be willing to organize new members, but its current members as well.


Stewards represents members in:

  • Grievance Procedures
  • Informal problem-solving and discussion with management
  • Interactions with local union officers
  • Liaison between the Local and Membership

Stewards should have the knowledge and be able to educate in:

  • The Contract
  • Work Rules
  • Union’s Structure
  • Union’s Directions and Goals
  • Union Positions on issues affecting members (1)


(Practical Problems Facing the Steward)


  • Always wait until a worker comes to him with a grievance. Why? Cases: Timid workers, one unaware of rights – danger to others and union, etc. (How should such cases be handled?)
  • Parade around with a chip on his shoulder. Case of winning steward with big head or one with false sense of power, etc. What are dangers here?
  • Pretend to know all the answers to all problems – give out information he is not sure of. Why? (What should steward tell workers in such cases? What should he do?)
  • Fail to keep men posted on disposition of grievances. What are dangers of such failures? (To steward, to union, to department – reaction of uninformed, aggrieved, etc.)
  • Violate recognized shop rules. Why not? (Difference in attitude of arbitrator, umpire and the courts, between responsibility of steward and ordinary member, leadership; company antagonism toward militant steward, etc.)
  • Violate the contract. Why? (Distinguish between this and the above case.)
  • Stall when workers call him or try to talk members out of a grievance if it is a grievance. Why? (No such thing as a minor or unimportant grievance.)
  • Present a grievance feeling it’s obligatory on his part to do so, without first investigating the merits of the grievance beforehand. Grave danger here? What is it? (Case of member running to steward and steward running to foreman unarmed.)
  • Take up phony grievances. Why? If worker remains unconvinced and causes steward trouble or will, what should he do? (Hold departmental meeting, point out to and arrange use of union appeal procedure by complainant. What is this procedure?)
  • Blow up when bargaining with the supervisor. Why?
  • Horse trade on grievances. Why?

Basic Guide for Union Stewards

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Being a union steward is a tough job. It becomes even tougher when anti-union coworkers and managers try to break your spirit. Don’t let them get you down. Keep a positive attitude and take pride in the fact that you are a union steward. Being a union steward is an important job and is something to be proud of.

Be Patient and Look to the Future

You cannot become a good steward overnight. Developing into an effective union steward is a process that takes time. You must be patient and willing to persevere.

Don’t try to know everything. If you don’t have an answer to a union member’s question, simply tell them you don’t have the answer but you will find out the answer and get back to them. If you are true to your word and get back to them with the correct answer, the members will have respect for you. Over time, you will develop positive relationships with the members you represent. You will also find that management will respect you, even if they do not like you.

Always Be Willing to Learn

As a union steward, you have a lot to learn. You must understand the collective bargaining agreement, past practices, how your union and employer function, and who the players are in the labor relations process. There is no substitute for experience and knowledge.

You can’t be expected to have all the answers. However, you must be willing to learn as much as you can in order to be the most effective union steward you can be. Never be afraid to ask questions. In fact, an effective union steward asks a lot of questions.

There are People There to Help You

Many worksites are isolated and you may feel that you are on your own. Remember that you have chief stewards, executive board members and staff representatives to assist you. Also, you will find that many of your fellow workers can often be of assistance. Don’t hesitate to contact any of these folks when you need assistance. After all, that is what unionism is all about. People helping each other.

Involve Others

The whole idea of having a union is to have a group of people working together in order to improve the conditions in their workplace. It is important for you to pass on your skills and knowledge to your fellow members. Keep members informed and develop a strong organization around you. Possessing the ability to organize and mobilize your members is of the utmost importance. This is especially true when contract negotiations are being conducted or when some other important workplace issue comes up.

Doing the Right Thing

The right thing is not always the comfortable or popular thing to do. As a result, you must have strength of mind and thick skin.

The right thing on occasion will include: representing an unpopular union member who has been disciplined; explaining to a union member that his/her complaint is not a grievance; disagreeing with a manger or supervisor; or, filing a grievance on a contract violation when other union members may not want you to file it.

When management violates the collective bargaining agreement, do the right thing. File a grievance. Keep in mind, stewards are not in the workplace to win popularity contests. They are there to enforce the contract.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously and Don’t Try to do Everything

Remember to laugh at yourself and with your co-workers. More importantly, remember to laugh at management. Although it is important to take the issues at hand seriously, do not take yourself too seriously.

Even the most unflappable union stewards are likely to run into tough times. Being a union steward is very demanding and you often must deal with hostile people. Although this can cause stress for a union steward, try not to create more stress by having unrealistic expectations of yourself.

You can’t win every grievance, people are not going to constantly congratulate you for a job well done, and there will be times when many members will not support your position.

Accept your limitations, and acknowledge and learn form your mistakes. You can’t do it all by yourself.

File Grievances in a Timely Manner

The biggest mistake a union steward can make is to file a grievance late. At each step of the grievance process, always file grievances within the time limits given in your collective bargaining agreement. If you file a grievance after the time limits have expired, management is likely to deny the grievance on the basis that it was filed late. As a result, you are likely to lose such a grievance, even if the grievance has merit.

Remember that a grievance filed untimely is a grievance you will lose. Always file grievances in a timely manner.

Weingarten Rights

One of the chief functions of a union steward is to represent union members as management is interrogating them. A worker’s right to union representation during interrogations is referred to as “Weingarten Rights”. This is because of the 1975 U.S. Supreme Court decision in NLRB v. Weingarten, Inc. that determined that union members have a right to union representation during investigatory interviews. An employer violates a worker’s “Weingarten Rights” when they refuse a union member’s request for a union steward during an interrogation.

Duty of Fair Representation

A union steward must always uphold his/her “Duty of Fair Representation”. A union steward does so by representing all union members in good faith and in a non-discriminatory fashion.

The union steward can avoid being charged with failure to uphold his/her “Duty of Fair Representation” by filing grievances in a timely manner and represent to the best of his/her abilities all the union members they serve. The best rule to follow is to represent union members the same way you would want to be represented.

The Special Status of Union Stewards

When you are acting in your role as a union steward, you are an equal to management. You cannot be threatened or disciplined for vigorously representing a union member. You have every right to strongly advocate for the union, just as the manager advocates for the employer. When dealing with management, union stewards can speak forcefully, use strong language, gesture, challenge management’s truthfulness, threaten legal action, or raise the possibility of a group protest. Vigorous advocacy may not always be needed or even appropriate, but when it takes place an employer may not consider it as insubordination and mete out discipline.

Remember that this “Special Status” only applies when a union steward is acting in his/her role as a representative of the union. It does not apply when a union steward is performing his/her job duties as an employee.

Past Practices

It is the union steward’s responsibility to police the collective bargaining agreement and file grievances when management violates the agreement. But what happens when management unilaterally discontinues a past practice that is not mentioned in the collective bargaining agreement? Can a union steward still file a grievance? The answer is, yes. In addition, the union steward can ask his/her staff representative to file a charge with the labor board.

If your collective bargaining agreement has a provision with language that prohibits the discontinuation of unwritten past practices, file a grievance under this provision. If your contract has no such provision, consult with your staff representative. You may be able to file a grievance under another provision. Whether or not you have contract language that specifically addresses past practices ask your staff representative to file a charge with the labor board whenever the employer discontinues an unwritten past practice. The labor board has often ruled that employers cannot unilaterally discontinue unwritten past practices, even when the collective bargaining agreement is silent on the issue.

AFSCME Steward Handbook