It was almost four years ago I started making plans to construct a union web site, but a pregnancy pushed that idea in the closet for a while. Starting in 1996, I took many trips to the State Law Library in Harrisburg, Pa., researching background information into the legal history of unions.
For now, a story. First, what is a shop steward? What's your opinion?
Once, long ago in the before time, each plant was a "local". The word "union" once considered an "illegal conspiracy" was eventually recognized and became established. The word "steward" was borrowed from English Law. If the plant was large, working multiple shifts, things evolved having one steward for each shift, area or specified group. The structure of unions, to give some sense of order, has its ground on parliamentary rules, credit going to Henry Martyn Robert with his first printing in 1876. (Click Here to visit the official web site.) Eventually these rules became standard format when actual laws were enacted to regulate unions.
From the research I obtained, I plan to post a date map showing critical events by year. It will help to grasp the progress.
After the "Civil War" unions became recognized in the struggle to stay recognized. In Pennsylvania, shortly after "WW I", the Administrative Code was adopted, shifting more and more away from open trials to semi-formal hearings. Around this time a new phrase was invented, "business agent." (Which was a shortened phrase of administrative business agent. Back then, in the early 1920's everyone, so to speak, was getting on the administrative frenzy.)
Then law-makers began using the phrase "business agent" when adopting new laws along with using the old, still-in-use label, steward. Then, for all intent and purpose, the word "steward" was abolished in the legal sense but still used by the union members, public at large, newspapers and so on.
About thirty years later, after "WW II" when the administrative frenzy subsided into accepted form a new frenzy took root: Amalgamation. This frenzy spread like wild fire, in such places as consolidating many parts of government as evident in the birth of school districts. (Once, in my area, Luzerne County, every town had its own local school charter and, more or less, working independently from the rest. You can say that every school principle was the chief steward, for the role of a principle evolved on the ideals of a stewardship. Back then you had separate schools everywhere.) The logic was strength in numbers by combining resources. Unions liked that idea and did the same.
Prior to the push for amalgamation, a given plant, being its own local, elected fellow employees as their representatives as union officers. (Surprising, I found one old case citing that viewed the membership itself as an office.)
Here is where things got slippery. More or less, upon vote of the members to decide to amalgamate, those back then had a difficult decision. They worked so hard to gain their rightful place in the work force, resting in their security, many didn't like the idea of surrendering their autonomy to "outsiders". (A term used to other union members not of their "click". You have to understand the nature of politics.)
The deal. If a given plant, say had an in-house executive board of five members, by law all deemed business agents, by custom still called stewards, according to the terms of amalgamation, the in-house executive board was to be disbanded as authority was transferred to a central board, often many miles away. But there was a strict condition. Each plant was to keep at least one steward as an officer of the new executive board having resident status. (It was like the club house was moved to regulate, as primary, the centralized treasury.)
All was fine on the drawing board but the law-makers pulled a very slick move with a lot of lobbying from dark elements within the unions; elements that saw the chance to gain the power and the control of all that money which fueled more power. Both state and federal law clearly placed an in-house steward as an officer of the then new, centralized executive board. That was etched in stone based on the original intent of regulating amalgamations. But there was some loop holes in the Administrative Code that needed a certain amount of unsuspecting cooperation from the general work force. They played a word game and the employees never knew the difference. Old habits are hard to break. One day, Joe, is the chief steward of the plant. After the amalgamation, where the new board took on different names, good old Joe, who kept his in-house status of steward, well, the words threw everybody off track as if the board was something special or different that didn't include their friend Joe. What compounded the matter, the respective by-laws and constitution of a given union were not modified to replace what amounted to illegal names.
Example: When Pennsylvania had prisons, they were under the control of a warden. When prisons were re-classified as "institutions" they were under the control of a superintendent.
Further example: When the Corrections was a bureau, the head was known as a Commissioner. In 1984, via Senate Bill 1313, Corrections was legally changed to a Department. By law the head of a Department is a Secretary. Yet, they still called the head a Commissioner until I wrote countless letters bringing that mistake to the surface; a mistake that was in effect for over ten years since 1985. A mistake that was in direct violation of state law that officially changed his title to Secretary. So, I take credit. The head of the Department Of Corrections is now Secretary Jeffery A Beard.
Conclusion? A shop steward, with a legal name as representative, is an officer of the executive board.
An another example, the local I belong to has only one "Chief Steward", the Secretary Treasurer.
Why is there so much reluctance? Power and money.
Question: Am I correct? The Department Of Labor in Washington prints and publishes pamphlets that say a shop steward is NOT an officer of the union. The executive board also agrees. They have been doing it for years. My answer? They are wrong. A little story: I was elected as shop steward. I rocked the political boat as intended. The executive board sent me a letter removing me as steward, not that I did anything wrong or accused, but according to their interpretation of U.C.S.Title 29, they had no choice because I was a "convict". Someone forgot to read the footnotes. After I notified the Department Of Justice in Washington, the executive board had to re-instate me as steward. What happened? Held an illegal election to have me removed. Illegal election? The default duration of an election is one year. They held a mid-term election.
I will be posting more later on. But I have my daughter to be concerned with at this time.
Click Here to read about the new flag at the union hall.