Role of a Union Representative

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A union representative’s role in many situations will depend on the language of the collective agreement. That said, employees will always have the right to get advice from the union about their rights and be represented by the union in the grievance process.

Why is the union representative important?

A union representative or shop steward is often called the “cornerstone of the union”.

Not only do they act as official representatives of the union at the worksite, but they also inform employees about their rights under the collective agreement and represent them in the grievance process.

Most arbitrators agree that, before an employer meets with an employee to impose discipline, the employer must give the employee time to contact their representative. In many cases, arbitrators have even found that an employer must notify the employee about their rights to union representation because of the language in the collective agreement and trust.

How does a union representative compare, authority-wise, to a manager or fellow employee?

When employees are acting as union representatives, they aren’t lower in rank to management but rather on equal footing with them. In fact, union representatives are given more freedom than ordinary employees when challenging management.

This does not mean that the union representative can abuse, harass, threaten, or intimidate management – just that they can challenge management decisions more freely than an ordinary employee would be able to do so.

Sometimes, union representatives can face worse disciplinary penalties than ordinary employees. Examples of misconduct that a union representative might be punished for more severely include illegal strikes or work stoppages, or lying and breaking the employer’s agreement.

More on unions and collective agreements:

Looking to unionize your workplace in BC? It just got easier!

Union and Collective Agreement: The Best “Insurance Policy” Against Wrongful Dismissal

Introduction to Labour Relations Process

The Labour Relations Code can be found here.

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