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Take Action if Shop Steward Is Ineffectual

April 22, 2001

Q: I was a union shop steward for 20 years. Since my retirement in 1994, my fellow members at the plant have been without adequate representation. Some members have come to me for advice and help on writing a grievance form.

Am I wrong in doing this as far as the local union and the company are concerned?

--S.M., Rosemead


A: There is nothing wrong in giving advice or helping an employee complete a grievance form. But it sounds like the plant employees may not be getting the help they need from the current shop steward.

Shop stewards are often the most important union representatives in the plant. Depending on the union's internal structure, shop stewards take members' grievances, point out contract violations, and represent union members in meetings with supervisors and management.

Shop stewards are almost always rank-and-file employees. In some unions, they are appointed by the union leadership. In others, they are elected by their fellow workers.

The union's leadership may not know that a problem exists with the steward. The plant members should explain the problem to the business agent assigned to the plant, or, if that proves unsuccessful, to the highest officials of the union.

If the union finds that the members' claims have merit, it may give the current shop steward additional training, or replace the steward if the problem is sufficiently serious.

--Joseph L. Paller Jr.

Union, employee attorney

Gilbert & Sackman


If you have a question about an on-the-job situation, please mail it to Shop Talk, Los Angeles Times, P.O. Box 2008, Costa Mesa, CA 92626; dictate it to (714) 966-7873, or e-mail it to Include your initials and hometown. The Shop Talk column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice. Recent Shop Talk columns are available at

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