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Suggested Guidelines for Avoiding Problems with Your Steward

The AGC has recently received calls from both labor and management relating to steward issues. These calls have ranged from the dismissal of stewards without proper notice or the quality of stewards being provided by some of the trades.

In order to assist our members who may experience problems in this area, the AGC developed the following guidelines some years ago to assist our contractors. This information has been recently updated and reprinted here for your benefit.

Unions have the right to furnish or appoint whomever they wish to be steward with certain limitations. The steward acts as agent for the Union at the jobsite. Many of the area collective bargaining agreements require that the steward be the second person employed on the jobsite, following the foreman.


1. Have a Cooperative Productive Steward Appointed

One of the best ways of avoiding problems and making a profit on your job is to have a cooperative steward working on your project.

Most labor agreements provide that the Business Manager can "furnish or appoint" a shop steward. A contractor may request a specific person as steward, although the Union has no obligation to honor such a request since normally an agent will furnish someone of his choice rather than appointing one already on the job.

The contractor who establishes a good relationship with the Business Manager usually can have a more cooperative steward appointed. This suggests that before starting a job you or your Superintendent discuss the project with the area Business Manager telling him how you intend to run the project. If the Business Manager knows your plans ahead of time, it will defuse any future conflicts or misunderstandings once the project is underway.


2. Problems With a Steward

Stewards can be disciplined or discharged but special precautions must be taken. Unions frequently claim that the discipline or discharge of a steward is in retaliation for performing his duties as steward. Sometimes, if a steward aggressively processes grievances on behalf of his fellow employees, there is a tendency of some company supervisors to retaliate against the steward. Retaliation of this kind is prohibited both by the NLRB and by the collective bargaining agreement

If the local union files a charge on behalf of a discharged steward with the National Labor Relations Board and is successful one or two years later when the case is finally decided, he may be reinstated with full back pay. Remember: The meter is running from the date of the infraction – in this case, the date of the discharge. The steward has six months from the date of discharge to file an unfair labor practice charge.

The discipline or discharge of a steward should be well documented and it is important that the individual should be warned at least once prior to the disciplinary act. If the discipline or discharge is for matters normally not requiring prior notice, such as gross insubordination, it must be clear that the act by the steward was not related to his duties as steward. For example, discipline or discharge of a steward for not leaving an office where grievances were being discussed would, in all likelihood, run afoul of the law.


Steward's Rights

Most agreements provide that the steward may investigate grievances and attend to union business on company time. This does not mean that the steward is free to roam the job site investigating or soliciting grievances. He must have a specific reason for taking himself out of his normal work position. His supervisor may require that he not leave his work area without permission; however, such permission should not be unreasonably withheld.

Unless provided for in the collective bargaining agreement, a company is not obligated to pay a steward or other employees while they attend negotiation or arbitration sessions.

If you have a problem with a steward, the job superintendent's first step is to personally discuss the problem at once with the steward. Deal promptly with the problem.

If the steward does not respond, then contact the Business Manager and either have a joint meeting with the steward or let the Business Manager talk with him privately.

If this doesn't correct the problem set up a face-to-face meeting with the next step up in management such as the general superintendent or project manager, the Business Manager, and the steward.

If this meeting does not correct the problem and you still believe it is necessary to discharge the steward, be sure to follow all the steps in the Agreement.


3. When It Becomes Necessary to Discharge a Steward

Before discharging a steward, you should discuss the action with some outside party such as the AGC. Frequently the parties are emotionally involved. AGC MA can help you evaluate the strength of your case and advise you on the proper steps that must be followed. The problem will take a substantial amount of the time of your supervision and top management if the case goes to arbitration. Be sure of your ground, and do it right. Here are some suggestions for you to consider:


Read Your Agreement

Many of the area collective bargaining agreements have provisions that cover steward’s rights and work responsibilities.


Involve the Local Business Manager

If you have a positive working relationship with the local agent, let him know of your problem. There may be a way he can work out a solution to this problem.


Don’t Procrastinate

If the steward continues to be a problem, deal with it promptly rather than ignore it. Most labor agreements require certain procedural steps be taken prior to discharging a steward. Generally 48-hour notice in writing must be given to the Business Manager. If a steward’s workmanship or other activity warrants discharge, do it right away and document the cause for discharge. Do not let the small problem become a big one.


Reduce any SETTLEMENT to Writing

If following your termination of a shop steward, you agree to take him back, subject to one last chance, or with a week's back pay subject to one last chance, or whatever the terms, put those terms in writing. Be certain the document is signed by a representative of management, an authorized representative of the union (if present), and the steward himself, before any compensation is given. Do not fail in this.