Union representative

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A British shop steward discusses an issue with a foreman during WWII

A union representative, union steward,[1] or shop steward is an employee of an organization or company who represents and defends the interests of their fellow employees as a labor union member and official. Rank-and-file members of the union hold this position voluntarily (through democratic election by fellow workers or sometimes by appointment of a higher union body) while maintaining their role as an employee of the firm. As a result, the union steward becomes a significant link and conduit of information between the union leadership and rank-and-file workers.

The duties of a union steward vary according to each labor union's constitutional mandate for the position. In general, most union stewards perform the following functions:

  • Monitor and enforce the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement (labor contract) to ensure both the firm and union worker are not violating the terms of the agreement.
  • Ensure that the firm is in compliance with all federal, state and local laws and regulations.
  • Represent and defend fellow workers whom the firm believes violated company policy or the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement, often through the grievance process.
  • Communicate and disseminate official union policy, memos and directives to workers in the shop.
  • Popularize and promote union consciousness and values in the workplace.

Shop steward[edit]

Unlike other union representatives, stewards work on the shop floor, connecting workers with union officials at regional or national levels.

The role of shop stewards may vary from being a mere representative of a larger national union towards independent structures with the power of collective bargaining in the workplace.

In the United Kingdom, a network called Shop Stewards Movement organised shop stewards against the first World War. In Germany, a network of shop stewards called Revolutionary Stewards took an important role in the revolutionary "January Strike".[2]

Collective bargaining agreement sample steward clause[edit]

Labor contract between the Service Employees International Union, Local 767, and Windemere Nursing[3]

5.6 Stewards.

(a) The Home agrees to recognize such Union stewards, duly appointed by and acting as agents of the Union, who may receive complaints and process grievances through the grievance procedure. The Union shall provide the Home with a written list of such stewards and alternates, if any.

(b) Union stewards shall be permitted to use a reasonable amount of work time with pay, as approved in advance by the Administrator (which approval will not be unreasonably denied), for the purpose of handling and processing grievances.

(c) The Union steward shall not direct any worker how to perform or not perform their work, shall not countermand the order of a supervisor and shall not interfere with the normal operations of the Home or any other worker.

(d) The Home's designated representative shall be required to meet with only one Union steward and/or the Union Chairperson on any grievance.

5.7 Handling of Contract Matters.

The Union Chairperson(s) will be allowed up to four scheduled hours per week (or more if needed) with pay to handle matters under this contract, provided that it does not interfere with patient care or with the operating needs of the Home.

Further reading[edit]

  • John Benson, Unions at the Workplace: Shop Steward Leadership and Ideology, 1991.
  • Ralf Hoffrogge, Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution. Richard Müller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Origins of the Council Movement, Brill Publications 2014, ISBN 978-9-00421-921-2.
  • Y. Rittau and T. Dundon, 2010, The roles and functions of shop stewards in workplace partnership: evidence from the Republic of Ireland, Employee Relations, Vol 32(1), p. 10-27.


  1. ^ The Union Steward's Complete Guide, David Prosten, Union Communication Services, Inc.
  2. ^ Ralf Hoffrogge, Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution. Richard Müller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Origins of the Council Movement, Brill Publications 2014, ISBN 978-9-00421-921-2., pp. 21-31.
  3. ^ http://www.seiu767.org/WINDEMERE.pdf[permanent dead link]