A union steward, also known as a union representative or shop steward, is an employee of an organization or company but is also a labor union official who represents and defends the interests of his or her fellow employees. The position is a voluntary position and is generally elected by fellow workers through democratic election. On occasion, this position can be appointed by a higher union body. The role of the union steward is to represent the non-management employees commonly referred to as the “rank-and-file” and to be a link and conduit of information between the rank-and-file and the union leadership.
Duties of a steward vary in accordance to each labor union’s constitutional mandate for the position but generally include informing the workers of their rights under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA); monitoring and enforcing the provisions of the CBA; and ensuring employer compliance with federal, state and local laws. Additionally, when an employee is believed to have violated company policy or the CBA, the steward duties are to represent and defend rank-and-file employees in investigatory interviews (in accord with employees’Weingarten Rights), that are reasonably expected to result in disciplinary action, and through the grievance procedure.
The shop steward must have a complete understanding of the collective bargaining agreement under which the employees work. The shop steward acts as a first responder when an employee files a grievance with the union, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The shop steward attempts to resolve the dispute with management. Not only does a shop steward help resolve issues between management and labor, but he also acts as the labor organization’s local representative. Among a steward's duties is letting union members know about any union news and policies.
Therefore, the shop steward must familiarize himself with this information to ensure that he accurately answers questions from members. A union / shop steward provides information to union leadership regarding new developments and issues within the collective bargaining unit and at the company. She/he also provides information and news from union leadership to union members, often through bulletin board postings and union meetings.
A shop steward is often the first union representative that a new employee meets. She/he is expected to seek out, sign up, and welcome new union members. One of the steward's duties is to encourage employees to participate fully in union activities. During new employee orientation, a union steward explains the relationship between the local collective bargaining unit and management and ensures the new employee understands applicable union policies.