Retaliation Against Stewards

The union has been weak at my job for a long time. The shop steward and I have been trying to bring members together to enforce the contract. Now management is cracking down. They gave the shop steward and the assistant steward (me) a letter threatening us with discipline, up to termination. Management said the shop steward is “too aggressive” because he raised his voice to a manager.

When management gave us the letter, all our business agent could say was, “I’ll have to look into this.” Since then, we’ve heard nothing.

– Not sitting down and taking it in New York

Dear Not Taking It,

This Teamster Troublemaker says if management is trying to shut you down like this, you must be doing something right. Now let’s talk about your rights and what you can do about this.

First of all, it is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) for management to harass, threaten or punish you or your steward in retaliation for your union activities. The time for a strong union response is now—while management is still trying to build its case against you, not after they’ve taken disciplinary action.

You can file an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. But it would be better if your local filed it on your behalf.

This isn’t really about you and the shop steward. It’s about the company trying to block members from enforcing their contract. All members have a stake in this and you should try to get them involved. You might want to consider a rank-and-file petition that calls on your business agent to file NLRB charges. If management sees that their threats are backfiring and creating more unity, they may back down.

As far as management’s problem with your “aggressive” steward: under the NLRA, stewards are considered equals when they are engaged in representational activities with management. This “equality rule” applies when you are in a grievance hearing, investigating a complaint etc. Your steward has a right to raise his voice to management provided that he’s acting as a steward and not an individual employee.

But be careful. The equality rule is not in effect when the steward is talking to management about his individual job performance. Being a steward doesn’t give you free reign to tell management off anytime you want—no matter how tempting that may be.


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  • Thomas Villarreal
    commented 2018-02-24 07:44:56 -0500
    At my job we’ve found that written communication especially written grievance requests works best with the union. Email, fax, snail mail or certified letter. Persistence is key. If no response in reasonable time then write again to remind them. After that express your disappointment in their lack of response combined with a petition.

    Verbal communication is great if you and your union are on the same page and have great rapport. If not then verbal communication offers way too much wiggle/weasel room and no record.

    Here’s an example:
    Verbal request: A while back we wanted alternate stewards but the union offered very thin reasons why we shouldn’t. They didn’t refuse but the pushback was discouraging. It boiled down to the fact that the company sees the two guys who would be alternates (my buddy and me) as “being lightning rods”.

    Written request: We learned our lesson and last week presented a petition for 2 alternate stewards with more than 95% signatures. The union then notified the company of the 2 new alternates.

    See. Verbal request = poor outcome
    Written request=Success
    If your not successful you at least have a record of your communication which can be potentially useful.
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