The original meaning of steward was house guardian. His job was to protect and maintain . This, often, in lieu, vicariously of the owner, hence we are all called to be stewards of the earth, because the earth is not ours. The earth belongs to its Creator. Over the centuries the word was applied to other situations.
A union steward (including job and shop) is a full time member working as an employee in his field. He is also a union representative on the job. He is liaison between the union hall and the men (rank and file). He is there to defend the working agreement, and to see that each one of the men is treated equitably. He is there to see that laws and safety regulations are upheld. He is there to represent, and defend, the men from accusations and “disciplinary action”*. It is often said, that, a good steward is laid off at the end of the job. I work construction. The crews wax and wane. In this jurisdiction, we have men who come out of the hall, from the book (the out of work list) and shop regulars. The good steward, having attempted to hold the contractor and his agents to the rules, is resented and dismissed. THE CONTRACTING EMPLOYER CHEATS. Cutting corners equals profit. Profit is the sole reason they became an employer. They see the contract as a one way document, not a dual contract. They are quite jealous of their prerogatives, they are quite ignorant of their responsibilities.
A bad steward, is a company steward. The company has no right to choose the steward. When a shop regular is continually a job steward, it is collusion. If the shop is too comfortable with the shop steward, that is not good. Some adversarial relationship is necessary. All union members, and especially representatives, need to be advocates. When accommodation is too frequent, or when, heaven forbid, it is routine, it is disaster. The wobblies (IWW) had a motto “an injury to one is an injury to all.” We need to think that way.
Now some stewards are political animals of self interest. He wants it easy. He wants light work, he may be willing to run the coffee pot, collect for check pools and socialise. Some are appointed by the hall on favoritism. Our agreement has it, that if no one is appointed, the first man on the job is foreman and he second journeyman is the acting steward. Now, as steward, he is to remain on the job as the second last man. On a long job, this is job security. So, the steward has choices, of whom to serve: himself, the employer, the union or the men.
There is a false argument circulating, that the customer is on this list. He may be co-laterally, not directly. There are contracts legal, oral, traditional and moral. These contracts are dual. One way, or singular, contracts are tyranny and slavery, where there exists a master/slave relationship. Labor has a contract with management/employer/contractor. The contractor has another with the customer. Labor does not have one with the customer, now labor could have one; the middleman, the contractor would be expendable. The moneyed interests, that have made an idol of capitalism, will not brook this notion to be made publicly.
In the IBEW (electrical workers) construction locals, there is a movement from the IO President, Ed Hill, to force the “code of excellence”. One of the odious elements is to transform the steward into a whip†. A whip, in legislatures, is that party member that enforces discipline. Here that would make him a goon for the foreman and contractor. It is bad, that, we have members, whom have full member rights, that are foremen and act as agents of the contractor. They often, in that guise, are an enemy to the men. Granted, there are foremen, who are good brothers, and protect their men from the contractor. Such men make the steward’s job easy. But, a steward who becomes a whip is despicable.
To-day, there was a large layoff (38, how appropriate, journeymen and 1 apprentice signed the book) at Brookpark Ford. That includes the two men fired, while maintaining safety protocol, that were mentioned in an earlier post, at Walton Hills Ford. Herbst Electric was kicked off the job, after Ford found out, that Herbst lied and cheated extensively, and were arrogant about it. Many safety protocols were not done. Safety equipment was not inspected or replaced. Much paperwork was not done. Promises were not kept. So, the men are out of work.
*usually termination of employment
†that term is not used