Steward Roles and Responsibilities
The steward is one of the most important positions within the labour movement, and probably the most recognizable. You are the first person that members in your assigned area contact for information about their workplace, union, and Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and for help resolving workplace issues. As a steward, you are a vital link between the members, your local (or bargaining unit), SGEU, and management.
Chief Steward Roles and Responsibilities
You are a workplace leader who represents SGEU, coordinates stewards, and enforces the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). You work collectively with stewards, elected leaders, and SGEU staff in your workplace, bargaining unit, and sector. You also deal with management on behalf of the union. As chief steward, you fulfill the duties of a steward, but also work with other stewards in many capacities.
Respectful Workplace and Harassment
The employer is morally, socially and legally responsible for ensuring a respectful work environment free of harassment. This responsibility flows from the Saskatchewan Occupational Health & Safety Act (or its successor, the Saskatchewan Employment Act).
Know Your Workplace Harassment Procedure
The Occupational Health & Safety Act (or its successor, the Saskatchewan Employment Act) requires all employers to develop, in consultation with the occupational health committee, a written policy to prevent harassment in the workplace.
Member-To-Member Harassment: What To Do
How to deal with and education some of our members who are less than perfect people? What are our legal or moral obligations?
SGEU Anti-Harassment Policy
Duty to Accommodate
For additional information on this topic, please see The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
Duty of Fair Representation
All members have the legal right to fair treatment from the union and its representatives. Duty of fair representation does not mean that unions have to take every grievance through to arbitration. It means we must judge a grievance on its merits, not on our opinion of the griever.
- Steward Manual
- Speaking Notes for New Members
- Ten Mistakes A Steward Should Never Make
- Nobody's Perfect Checklist for Stewards
A steward is a positive, motivated, respected, and assertive supporter (and promoter) of the union, who is elected by their peers. They take on the role of resolving conflict in their workplace and are recognized and respected for possessing a strong work ethic, and for employing diplomacy, confidentiality, and fairness.
More than anything else, a steward’s success depends on two core skills:
Communication: Stewards need well-developed communication skills, including the ability and willingness to offer their undivided attention. Strong communication skills empower members to help themselves by providing them with information and support.
Compassion: Stewards must be compassionate and try develop a rapport with members. It’s the steward’s job to make members feel comfortable and provide them with supportive encouragement.
SGEU has steward training courses called LD 10 and LD 20, which provide information about the structure and function of the union. SGEU’s Steward Manual is also a very valuable resource. You can also visit sgeuonline.org to learn more about some of the aspects of being a steward.
Stewards are also employees and as such are responsible for performing the duties of their paid employment. On the other hand, you have accepted a volunteer role, so there is an expectation that you will devote some of your free time to steward duties. Check in your collective agreement and with other stewards to see which steward duties you can legitimately perform on work time. For the rest, it’s okay to set boundaries on how much of your own time you will use for steward work. Each steward will do that in a different way. If you are feeling overloaded, talk to your chief steward.
In the context of a union, a grievance is a complaint filed by an employee, which may be resolved by procedures provided for in a collective agreement or by other mechanisms agreed to by the employer and union. Such a grievance may arise from a violation of the collective bargaining agreement or violations of the law, such as workplace safety regulations. All employees have the contractual right to raise a grievance under their collective agreement.
The first time a member asks for help can be nerve-wracking, especially if you haven’t taken any steward training yet! While it’s important to take this request very seriously, you aren’t on your own.
First of all, ask the member to provide you will full details of what has happened. Take careful notes. Review all relevant clauses of your collective agreement to see if there are other questions you need to ask them. Then, tell the member that you are going to consult with your chief steward, a more experienced steward, or your labour relations officer (depending on the practice in your bargaining unit) and that you will get back to them shortly. Talk the case over with your chief steward or other representative, who can advise you what part(s) of the collective agreement have been violated, if any; what further information you may need to locate; and what steps should be taken next.
The three types of grievances are:
- Individual grievances involve a dispute affecting only one member, and seek an outcome that will resolve the dispute for that member.
- Group grievances involve multiple members involved in a common dispute; these grievances seek an outcome that will address the issue for all members involved.
- Policy grievances are filed by bargaining units. They generally seek resolutions that will affect all members in a segment of the bargaining unit, or all members in the entire bargaining unit.
An action or decision is grounds for a grievance if it:
- Violates the collective agreement.
- Wrongly interprets a clause in the collective agreement.
- Violates a federal or provincial labour law.
- Violates the employer's own policies.
- Violates a worker's right to natural justice (which guarantees a fair hearing before a worker faces negative consequences.)
- Violates past practice.
Note that not all workplace issues are necessarily appropriate subject matter for a grievance, even if a member has a legitimate complaint. Some issues may need to be directed to external bodies, such as the Saskatchewan Human Rights Comission or the province's Occupational Health and Safety Division.
No. Time limits can only be extended by mutual agreement. This must be done in writing.
Once a grievance is filed, it is the responsibility of SGEU as a union, not of the individual steward who brought it forward. The decision to withdraw a grievance must be made by the member(s) who are party to the grievance, or by the labour relations officer assigned to that grievance (in which case the member may appeal that decision to SGEU's provincial grievance committee.)
If a member decides to withdraw a grievance they initiated, their steward should direct them to give written notice of their decison to the assigned labour relations officer. The steward may also provide this written notice on behalf of the member.
A steward should never cease working on a grievance until is has been formally withdrawn. Doing so is called abandonment, and can lead to SGEU facing charges of having failed in its duty to represent its members.
Insubordination is the intentional refusal of a worker to follow the instructions of his/her employer. Insubordination is the most common type of disciplinary action found in labour arbitration, and is also considered to be one of the most serious offences.
Except in very limited circumstances, stewards should advise members to follow the rule of “obey now, grieve later.” This will help protect the member from facing discipline. If the employer’s instructions are not criminal and do not risk a member’s health and safety, the member should follow those instructions and grieve the action later.
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