Can a Steward Be Fired for Yelling at the Boss?

Last week, I went to my boss’s office to ask him about an information request for a grievance I’m working on. He didn’t have the information, and I got angry and raised my voice with him. His door was open and some co-workers saw it. Right in front of them he told me that he would have me fired if I ever yell at him again. Can he get away with that?

-Stewing in Ohio

Dear Stewie,
No. The National Labor Relations Board has an “equality rule.” The rule says that when a steward is acting as a union rep, you’re an equal with management. That means you can yell at your boss, and even use foul language. This only applies when you are acting as a union steward.

That equality rule applies to grievance meetings and other steward duties, such as discussing an information request or checking with management about the status of a grievance.

The NLRB also recognizes your right to:

  • Make gestures at management;
  • Call your boss a liar;
  • Threaten legal action against the company;
  • Or warn the boss that his actions may lead to collective action from the union.

If you stop and think about it, that rule makes a lot of sense. How can you be a good steward if you can’t confront management forcefully? Of course, sometimes it makes sense to deal tactfully with management—but sometimes people do yell or use salty language.

There are definite limits. You can’t threaten your boss with violence. You can’t use unrestrained profanity or obscenities. And it only applies when a steward is performing his/her duty as a steward, not just anytime the steward talks with a boss.

If the company does discipline you for your actions as a steward, you can either grieve it, file a charge with the NLRB, or both. Feel free to contact TDU if this happens to you—just call (313) 842-2600.

Finally, if you haven’t read it, be sure to get a copy of Robert Schwartz’s The Legal Rights of Union Stewards. He taught me everything I know about my legal rights as a steward. You can order a copy from TDU.

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