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Your role, part II

Now you have the facts and management's early response. If there's no agreement, what's next?

"Grievances should never be confused with your chief responsibility as a steward: to build a united, organized, and involved membership in your workplace." Remember? You read that on page 1.

So all your work so far (interviewing workers, investigating, meeting with the supervisor) is simply preparation for involving the members.

You take the problem, together with all you've learned, to the members. Why?

SEIU believes that all union power derives from the involvement and commitment of the members.

  • Solving problems on the job depends far more on the courage and unity of the members than on our claims or arguments. If the union members don't really care, management will know it. Count on it.
  • The same is true for negotiating good contracts or obtaining fair labor laws. No matter how "well" we bargain or lobby, if our members are apathetic or divided, we will lose.

That's why your job is to mobilize the membership around the issues that affect their lives. You do this in two major ways:

Communicating. If your members don't know what's going on, they can't very well mobilize and they can't make decisions. As stewards, we're working for the members. That's why it's our job to keep them informed. How? Any way you can. The best way is continuing, two-way, one-on-one, face-to-face communication with every member at breaks, at lunch, and when you're working. You should also have meetings. Regular meetings. Newsletters. Use those bulletin boards we negotiated to get (but not as a substitute for personal contact). Post notices and facility updates on your local Web site and create group email lists as a way to keep your members informed. Do whatever it takes. Be creative.

If stewards and other leaders fail to tell the members what' s going on, you'll soon find yourself in serious pain. If you've never seen a bargaining unit torn by doubts, wild rumors, resentment, bad morale, cynicism, and warring factions, take our word for it: It's ugly.

Worse yet, you'll be losing out on the accumulated experience and knowledge of your members--which is probably your greatest resource.

Some workers won't volunteer even if they have important things to say. It's up to you to reach out.

Action. As you'll see on the following pages, there are many ways the union can solve problems other than formal grievances. It's up to the members to decide, but it's your job to suggest courses of action based on your investigations and problem-solving experience.