What is a Steward? Our Education Officer explains…

What is the job of a Steward in the NSGEU? It’s a common question.

Stewards are the union representatives in the workplace.  There can be many stewards in a workplace. A few Collective Agreements limit them, but, in general, there can be a Steward in every unit, or office, or building, in a
Local. They are the first point of contact for members who have questions or problems in the workplace and they are the “Go-to” people for information about the union.

NSGEU stewards and Local Officers are volunteers and do most of their work on their own time (so have some patience when they have to “get back to you”). If there is no Steward in your area you might want to become a Steward. You should start by attending your Local meetings. That is the place where you would be elected or ratified as Steward. You are responsible to your Local for the work you do as a Steward.

If you decide to become a Steward, the NSGEU can offer plenty of help and lots of training. Each Local has a Chief Steward who should be familiar with the contract, and who tries to recruit stewards and maintains the Steward network. If the Chief Steward cannot help, you can call the NSGEU office directly with questions about your Collective Agreement or other matters pertaining to the union. Each Local also has an Employee Relations Officer (ERO) – a head office staff person assigned to them. If the Chief Steward cannot help, the ERO will be able to offer assistance.

Stewards are provided with two days of basic training and then two days of “Steward II” training six months later. For very active Stewards and Chief Stewards there is also “Advanced Steward” training, a five-day course
held annually at week-long school. Those who complete Advanced Steward training become eligible for the Steward mentoring program, where you come and spend two weeks shadowing NSGEU staff to truly understand all the parts of labour relations and the way that the NSGEU deals with grievances, from our database system to attending an arbitration hearing.

If you have questions about how the union works or want to know more about opportunities to participate in your union, think about taking a New Activist Course which will provide you with the information that you need
to run for office, or to be a Steward, or OHS Committee member… There is plenty to do – so come and find out how you can get involved!

Unions are democratic, and this one is run by people who show up. So show up, stand up and fight back!


Generally speaking, Stewards are elected and ratified every two years at each Local’s Biennial meeting. Those meetings must be held within six weeks following NSGEU’s Biennial Convention (in 2013, that will be prior to the end of June). At this meeting, every Steward on the Local’s list should be re-elected or ratified. If existing Stewards are not active, or no one has seen them at a meeting for some time, they should be removed from the list. If you have any questions about this, please contact the NSGEU at 424-4063 or 1-877-556-7438.

– Margaret Anne McHugh is NSGEU’s Education Officer, and coordinates all levels of Steward training, as well as many other educational courses for the union.

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