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The Difficulties of Being a Steward
Ask any steward and you will find that the job is not only difficult, but requires many more things of the steward than just knowledge of the contract. One must know how to handle people, have negotiation skills, how to research a grievance, and maintain respect by the carriers and management.

Handling people seems to always be at the forefront for a steward skill. A steward must know how to handle a situation where a carrier is angry about what mgmt. did to or against him. He must know how to calm the carrier, and let him know that he is on his side and will take care of the situation. Which he usually does by investigating the incident and taking the proper steps to file the grievance for the grievant. However, there are times after investigating that it shows there is no violation and then the steward must report that to the angered grievant. This takes skill in handling someone who is angry and feels aggrieved but there is no violation. An example would be forcing a non-odl to work OT when they have maxed everyone out and have followed the rotating juniority list. The carrier is still angry but there is nothing that can be done. An effective steward can explain the situation, the rule, and still walk away unscathed.

Negotiating is a skill learned as you go through the grievance process. Initially, you do not want to give up anything to mgmt. As you work through grievances you later find that sometimes you are not debating whether the carrier did what is alleged, but only the length of time of the Letter of Warning or Suspension. An example would be an Express failure. The carrier admits he cased it in and thought he could get to the stop by noon. He does not. So the carrier admits his wrong, now the negotiations come down to reducing the LOW to a shorter length of time. Learning to negotiate comes with time and experience. A new steward should look to the branch officers or other experienced stewards on pointers when it comes to doing the informal A and formal A.

I feel it is better to approach the whole process with a business like manner. Don’t appear as if the grievance is personal, even though if may be. Appear objective, even though you aren’t. Listen to their arguments, only to be able to combat them later. Look for holes in their argument and have a knowledge or the rules, regs, manuals, step 4’s, and arbitrations. Everyone starts with a little knowledge, but build on that from there. Then you can negotiate from a solid standpoint and shoot holes in their arguments. Once that is done, negotiations become easier. Be careful on your own points and reduce the amount of “holes” you may have in your contentions.

Researching grievances is an individual thing for each and every steward. Many are adept at researching out the manuals and handbooks. I seem to do better with the computer and the Stuird Disk. It has helped me immensely. I guess it should since

I developed it, but I hope the other stewards have begun using it as effectively as I have. The Internet is a great tool for the computer literate. You can find what you need download it and have it all in your file in a matter of minutes. This is extremely important when time is of the essence. You can build your file quickly and document all your contentions. It is an unlimited resource.

I believe that we should also use the stewards in our branch as a resource. Someone may be an Art. 8 expert, while another is a discipline expert in our branch and the steward should seek these stewards out and use their knowledge to help them in his/her grievances. Talking to other stewards always gives you a different perspective. The Branch Officers should also be used as a research tool. They have dealt with many issues and should be well aware of how to guide you in your grievance. Use them when you must, but remember they are busy too.

Respect. A sometimes fleeting word that all stewards try to obtain and it can be difficult to receive. If a beginning steward is unfamiliar with the whole grievance process, it may be a while before he gets his respect, as he may not win many grievances in the beginning. Mgmt. thinks he is an easy mark and the carriers are disappointed he is not winning the grievances. It takes time to become an informed steward and I am a prime example. I didn’t know what an Art. 8 was when I began. I had no idea what all the Articles were about in the Nat. Agreement. I took the job on because I became angry at mgmt. I learned by the seat of my pants and going to all the meetings and Steward training sessions. I also studied for hours at home. I believe by going on postal forums on the internet and looking up answers for other carriers helped me to become a better steward. It taught me research skills and by quoting Articles most asked about I learned the articles and subsections much more quickly.

I believed I have earned some respect within my station and branch. I am dedicated to trying to protect the rights of carriers against the morons of management. I took on another station as they have no steward. I do not receive any extra pay for the additional station, but do receive much more work. I hope to earn respect there also. For many stewards, respect comes as the workforce sees changes in the way things are done at the station or to them. They see the steward making a difference, and this is what he/she should be doing. Making a difference is the prime objective.  Continued next column...

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Things will not change overnight, but through a slow process. Management will respect the steward once he can defend his position with documents and facts showing them he/she knows the contract. Mgmt. is adept at bluffing new stewards. If they think or know you do not know how to defend your position they will attack that hole in your defense, usually by saying “you show me…document your position” on a new steward. Many times a new steward won’t know where to look. It doesn’t mean mgmt. knows anything, but will attack the indecisiveness of the new steward. A seasoned steward will have all the backing documents handy or knows where to look to defend any ignorant statement by mgmt. It then is the steward asking THEM to show him/her the documents or facts. Let’s face it too, they ALL are ignorant of the contract. It is not their job to study the contract, it is ours. We must TEACH them the contract. They will try and slide by all they can without getting caught. It is our job to catch them. Respect comes from many sources, the carriers, mgmt., other stewards, and even the branch officers. One must earn the respect of all of those, for they do not give it anyone without reason.

As a Steward you must put yourself on a higher level of conduct. How do you gain respect for defending others when you are constantly defending yourself? You must lead by example. A carrier who must defend himself for an Express failure for the first time does not have as much respect for you if you are defending yourself for your second Express failure. If you have a disciplinary action against you, how will the next grievant feel you are giving his grievance the undivided attention he feels he should have? Will they look at the steward as running only for the position to get time to defend only themselves?

So the conduct of a steward must be put to a higher level. He must be the example and lead by that. He should show that a carrier can work, follow the rules, and not get in trouble. Every steward knows that babysitting is also part of the job and is probably the least liked. Some carriers seem to require more attention than others, always crying and whining about every little thing they feel is wrong, even if it is not a contractual issue, and runs to the steward about every little thing. This comes with the territory and sometimes a steward must remind the others that he is there for contractual violations, not to get forms, call personnel, check TSP, or check on an error on their paycheck. Many times other carriers want the steward to do work that they should be doing themselves. The steward needs to be assertive in that he is there for the contract, not doing gopher work! It is easy to get caught up in this as I have. In wanting to help carriers sometimes you forget to say no, do it yourself, or it is not my job to do that for you!

Stewardship is not easy and comes with a myriad of problems that don’t involve the contract. We need all the good people we can get to do the work, however, it is usually a thankless, time consuming job that the other carriers will never know you did. If you decide or are a steward, you are there to do right, to fight for the contract, to follow the rules and regulations, and to defend ALL carriers to the best of your ability, even the scabs (regretful, but true). Know if you “win” mgmt. will target you, if you lose you will hear “the Union sucks.” You must have a tough hide, but as long as you are doing it for the right reason you can stand tall, and you will definitely have my respect.


Denny Belden
Aka-VetCarrier Orlando, FL - NALC Branch 1091

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