Stewards – The Backbone of our Union

Stewards do one of the most challenging jobs in our Union. Believe it or not, they are activists, communicators, organizers, counsellors and educators. They are role models for co-workers. But most of all they are good listeners.

Listening to people you agree with and disagree with will make up a good proportion of your time as a shop steward. Your role is to listen without judging so that you can assist your co-workers.

You may think that you don’t know enough to become a shop steward. In reality all you need is a willingness to learn and the courage to stand up for what your Union (and hopefully you) believe in. You will be provided with all of the tools you need in the form of training, reading material, mentoring and good old fashioned experience.

One of the very first ways a new shop steward can get involved is by observing job interviews involving members of the Union. From this experience you get to meet the exempt managers that one day you may sit across from in a grievance procedure. You become proficient at determining the fairness of the process you are observing; you learn to be a good listener; and most of all you become a world class note taker.

[A word to the wise here, I have witnessed shop stewards sit through interviews without taking nary a single note. I’m not sure what they think they are there for, but I have had my interview observation notes used in an arbitration case and would have looked like a complete idiot if I had not taken notes.]

The longer you are a shop steward, the better your note taking skills will become. For example, when you accompany a co-worker to a management investigation meeting you are expected to take accurate notes. These same notes form a central part in the co-workers file if a grievance is filed. In addition, a more experienced shop steward may ask you to accompany them to a grievance meeting with management. You are there to be a witness to what is discussed and to take notes. Being in these meetings as support for your co-worker will help you learn how to handle similar situations with management when you are called upon to steward on your own.

Okay, so you have decided to put your name forward to become a Shop Steward.

  • Get the support of your co-workers. You will need that in order to get elected.
  • Talk to your co-workers. Find out what their Union issues are. Are there items you can take forward to the Union Executive on behalf of your co-workers?
  • Find a mentor within your own Local. Ask them to include you in their grievance and troubleshooting meetings. Offer to sit quietly and take notes during their meetings. Once again, observing this type of interaction will help you learn how to handle similar situations when you are called upon to steward on your own.
  • Read everything you can get your hands on about the Union movement. Read articles about issues that have affected your Union over the years. Read arbitrators’ decisions and major decisions that have affected your membership.
  • Get educated. Take advantage of any Union training you can sign up for. Some times this is the best and fastest way to learn about your Collective Agreement and how to interpret it.
  • Finally, volunteer to take on some of the load. Whether it is creating membership cards, serving on a committee or editing articles for the web page, every little bit helps your President and Executive get through the daily workload. Don’t wait to be asked. Offer your services freely..

Connie Niblock, Shop Steward, Engineering Department, CUPE Local 2011