Special Status of Steward
As a union steward, you have a special legal status that gives you both rights and responsibilities. Under the law, when you are acting as a union steward, you step out of the shoes of an employee and into the shoes of an exclusive bargaining representative. That means that the rules of conduct that normally apply to employees in their interactions with management do not apply to you.
The rights and new rules of conduct that apply to union stewards are based on the following three principles:
- Equality With The Boss. As an employee you are normally in a subordinate role to supervisors and are subject to the regular and customary rules of discipline.
When you are acting in your official union capacity, you no longer are in a subordinate role, but become an EQUAL with the supervisor. You can openly disagree or argue with management during grievance meetings; questions management’s authority; demand certain actions of management, all without risking disciplinary action.
The law recognizes that collective bargaining and the steward’s job requires open, direct, candid communication between equals. A steward cannot effectively represent a worker if he or she can be subject to discipline for aggressive representation.
The equality principle only applies a steward is acting in his/her official capacity as a steward, such in a grievance hearing meeting, representing a worker in an investigatory hearing, investigating a grievance, etc.
- No Retaliation. It is unlawful for management to retaliate against a steward just because he/she is a steward or union leader. It is unlawful for management to take actions against stewards that are intended to punish or intimidate in order to discourage the steward from doing their job.
- Equal Discipline Standards. Stewards are employees and union representatives. When they are acting only as employees, not as stewards, they must be treated just like other bargaining unit employees in the same or similar situation. It is unlawful for management to hold stewards to a higher standard of conduct, just because they are union stewards.
These principles are the source of a union steward’s legal rights. They also serve as guidelines for steward-management relations. If management, by its conduct, violates these principles, it may commit an unfair labor practice under appropriate law.