Why is a Union Steward Important?

Why is a Union Steward Important

A union steward, works for two entities at once:

  • The company or organization by which the employee is employed
  • The labor union representing that worker and their fellow workers

More specifically, a union steward represents and, when necessary, defends employees in matters of direct interest and concern to them as employees of the same company or organization.

While union stewards are paid employees of a company or organization, in their capacity as union stewards, they work purely on a volunteer basis. Typically, union stewards are democratically elected to the position by their fellow workers, though at times a higher union body can appoint a union steward instead.

Roles and Duties of a Union Steward

Roles of a Union Steward

Union stewards are a combination of problem solvers, organizers, communicators, educators and workplace leaders. They ensure that they and their fellow employees receive all their rights and benefits under the company’s or organization’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and other relevant policies and procedures. Union reps also serve as conduits of information and links for communication between their fellow workers and workplace authorities. In other words, your union representative acts as a mediator, speaking to your employer and union leadership on your behalf.

In addition to helping protect and empower employees under the CBA, union reps also make sure employee rights laid out in employer policies, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA,) the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and previously accepted practices are also honored.

Duties of a Union Steward

Every labor union has its own constitution with its own mandates for a union steward’s duties and responsibilities, though these typically include:

  • Introducing new members to the Union and their CBA
  • Hearing out employee concerns, looking into incidents, and coming up with solutions
  • Regularly discussing workplace matters with employers
  • Representing and defending fellow non-management employees in meetings with employers and grievance procedures
  • Keeping workers informed of their collective bargaining rights as per the CBA
  • Notifying members through electronic communication and workplace bulletin board postings, meetings and all other relevant matters
  • Monitoring and enforcing all CBA provisions
  • Ensuring that employers comply with local, state and federal laws affecting workers

Benefits of Having a Union Steward on Your Campus

Having a union steward by your side in workplace matters is akin to having a lawyer by your side in legal matters. Lawyers simply deal in laws, while union stewards deal in policies. Either way, as great American President Abraham Lincoln famously put it best, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” (Avvo)

Rather than attempting to represent yourself in a grievance or defend yourself in an investigation of suspicions of committing a violation, you have a knowledgeable and informed, respected and authoritative peer operating on your behalf. Moreover, you have a calm, collected and clear-headed third party removed enough from your situation to keep you from sabotaging your own efforts. This can give you far greater chances of achieving your desired resolution.

The Role of the APC Steward

A steward…

Solves problems. When an employee/member has a problem, they bring it to their steward. Some problems are job related; others are not. The steward helps the employee/member and others who may be affected, to identify possible solutions and work towards necessary changes.

Leads members. APC members look to stewards for knowledge, experience and guidance. By working with members to stand up for their rights on the job and encouraging members to participate in the union, stewards helps build an active and unified membership.

Communicates and informs. Stewards are the key point of contact between APC members and their union leaders, the Executive Board and Council. Stewards are responsible for keeping APC leadership informed about the concerns and questions its members have and also for keeping the members informed about APC policies and procedures, as well as, programs and goals.

Educates. APC stewards help members understand how to use and interpret the contract, participate in the union, and learn about broader issues that may affect them and their work environment.

Organizes. Stewards help organize members to participate in activities designed to improve conditions of the work environment.


  • Welcome new employees
  • Enforce contract rights and benefits
  • Increase unity among the members
  • Encourage more Unit 4 employees to join the union
  • Increase participation in union meetings
  • Support APC legislative campaigns that benefit members and the union collectively
  • Support APC efforts to build alliances with unions with common goals

How to Find a Union Steward on Your Campus

Academic Professionals of California (APC) has representation on all 23 California State University (CSU) campuses, with dozens of stewards across the entire state. Find the APC stewards on your campus, including their email addresses and phone numbers. They are ready to support you with your union needs.