What is a Steward?

Published in the Aurora News in January 2014

This article, written 20 years ago, is worth reprinting.
It first appeared in the Flint, MI Local APWU newsletter, Flint Facts.

by Mark Raymond

A Steward is…
A Boxer: They aren’t afraid to “step into the ring” with a supervisor and fight for the rights of those they represent. Most of them have learned how to roll with the punches, feint left and jab right, and every now and then they score a “knockout.” And their training never stops.

A Diplomat: The good ones can handle even the most delicate of problems with tact and sensitivity. They know how to negotiate treaties (settlements) between two hostile parties.

A Detective: They rocket into action as soon as someone comes to them with a problem. They can sniff out situations that just don’t “smell” right. They carry a gun (the contract) and they’re not afraid to use it.

A Teacher: Every day they’re in the workplace they educate other union members on contractual issues. They answer your questions. A good steward is a role model both on the job, and in the grievance procedure, teaching by their actions. Bring them an apple.

A Researcher: There seems to be no end to postal manuals and regulations, and stewards have the ability to find out which one they need and track down the particular paragraph that applies to each situation.

A Soldier: They’re the first ones on the firing line. They’re in the trenches every day, slogging out the work and meeting the “enemy” head on. Their “shots” (grievances) may be small and not carry the weight of huge “artillery” (Labor – Management Meetings and Labor Charges) but wars are won and lost in the trenches. Give a good steward the Medal of Honor.

A Secretary: They take dictation from grievants regarding their problem. They type up a lot of papers. They file things. Most of them even brew a pretty mean pot of coffee.

A Parent: They must know when to encourage members, when to coddle them, and when to kick them in the butt. They must also not be afraid to fight for the very lives of their “children” (the membership). But please, don’t ask them for an allowance.

A Psychiatrist: They listen to a lot of problems from a lot of people almost every day. They offer solutions, suggestions, and sympathy. All of this without an exorbitant fee.

A Historian: They must keep track of the past so when management makes the same mistakes they made last year (heck, last week) they know how to combat the problem. They learn from their own past mistakes so as not to duplicate them in the future. Management’s history seems to keep repeating itself, so a good steward is also a student of that history.

A Manager: That sounds radical, even heretical, but it’s true. After all, what does a good manager do? They plan the work, they communicate with others what that plan is, they see that the work is accomplished, and then do all the paperwork that goes with it. They also have good people skills. Most postal managers can’t do these things very well, if at all, but a good steward can. However, there is one thing you MUST remember: a steward is not a manager! They are not the ones making the decisions that impact your work life. They are not the ones setting the policies of the post office. They are the ones you come to when those decisions and policies offend you.

If you are a steward, my hat is off to you and my heart goes out to you. It’s a tough job — perhaps the toughest — and your service is truly appreciated.

If you are not a steward, be grateful that there are those in your Union willing to serve. You may have disagreements over how they do their job; you may not ever even file a grievance, but think about this: if you see how management treats others and you just can’t believe it, think about how they’d treat others — and even you — if we didn’t have the Union, and then remember that the stewards are the backbone and mainstay of our Union.

I, for one, am glad they’re here.