The Special Status of Union Stewards

Source: Robert M. Schwartz, Labor Notes, April 13, 2018

Standing up to bosses is essential to being a steward. On the shop floor and in grievance meetings, you must defend the actions of members and contest those of management.

In many cases you should be able to make your points temperately, practicing “quiet diplomacy.” But occasions will undoubtedly arise when you will want to raise your voice, challenge a supervisor’s credibility, or argue your case in other vigorous ways.

A widely accepted labor relations canon allows employers to discipline workers who fail to act respectfully toward management. Some legal treatises call this the “master-servant rule.”

But if stewards were subject to this rule while engaging in union activity, they would face an intolerable risk: speaking up for a member could put their own jobs in jeopardy. To resolve this dilemma, labor law accords a special status to union representatives. ….