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

Saanich Unionized Employees (CUPE Local 2011) are proud to be part of the Greater Victoria Region


The District of Saanich is a municipality within the Greater Victoria area on Vancouver Island in British Columbia,. The population was 109,75hj ]=2 at the 2011 census, making it the most populous municipality in the Capital Regional District and Vancouver Island, and the eighth-most populous in the province.

Did You Know?

  • There are 2,855 farms on Vancouver Island including 991 in Greater Victoria and 700 in the Cowichan Valley.
  • There are 330 tech companies operating in the downtown core, most of them are invisible to the average passerby.
  • Victoria’s waters are home to three resident pods of orca whales, totalling over 80 mammals.
  • There are 63 km of marked, buffered and signed bike lanes and trails in the bike network and is considered Canada’s cycling capital.
  • TripAdvisor currently has reviews of 1,107 Victoria restaurants.
  • Victoria has the highest vegetarian food sales per capita in North America.

From the May/June 2015 edition of Eat Magazine, Victoria, BC.

Taking a strike vote Article




What is a strike vote?ballot

During bargaining and prior to a Union being able to order unionized employees out on strike (legally), the Union must have the support of a majority of the bargaining unit. In order to achieve this, a Union will hold a vote where all eligible members of the bargaining unit can vote for or against going on strike. You don’t have to vote or even go to the meeting, but the Union must give you an opportunity to vote.

Voting to strike does not necessarily mean you will. It does, however, give you leverage. Having attained the support of its members to show solidarity and strike often gets the Employer back to the bargaining table if talks are stalled; or makes it clear to the Employer that the union is serious about its negotiating demands.

What if I don’t want to go on strike? If I don’t vote, do I have to go on strike?

In order for your opinion or wishes to count you must vote. If you don’t vote, those who do vote make the decision – regardless of what you hope for.

If your workplace has 100 employees and 20 show up for a strike vote, suppose 11 vote to strike and 9 vote against a strike. The union can then call a strike with only 11/100 votes in favour.

If you don’t want to be on strike, show up and cast your vote. If you do want to strike then show up and vote in favour of a strike. Either way, it is important to participate.

If a majority of the bargaining unit votes in favour of the strike, does this mean that a strike happens right away?

NO, not necessarily. The Union has 60 days from the date of the vote to declare a strike. There are also other requirements that the Union must meet (such as providing at least 72 hour strike notice to the Employer) before it can lawfully go on strike.

How will I know when a strike vote is going to occur?

The Union has a responsibility to ensure that all eligible members are given a reasonable opportunity to participate in the voting process and to be informed of the results. For this to happen, the Union must conduct a secret ballot vote in a manner that ensures eligible employees are given a reasonable opportunity to vote. Generally, that would mean advance notice in writing, but there is no such legal requirement in the Canada Labour Code for written notice.

What if I don’t agree with the way that the Union handled the strike vote?

If a Unionized employee thinks that there was something wrong with the way the Union held the strike vote, he or she may bring an application to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) and ask to have the vote declared invalid. Such an application must be brought within 10 days from the announcement of the results of the vote.

Can I work during the strike?

Here’s a lawyer’s answer: “it depends”.

Often the Employer will “lock out” the Unionized employees. What this means is that the Employer will NOT allow you to cross the picket line to work.

Your Union will definitely want you to strike and may threaten members who cross a picket line with fines or the loss of their membership card. For the most part, Union members must agree that they enjoyed the spoils of membership while working because of the salary and benefits their Union negotiated for them. If you are willing to reap these spoils, then you have an obligation to not undermine your Union. Solidarity means standing together with other members to get the best contract you can.

What is the difference between a “strike” and “job action?”

Under the BC Labour Code, a job action refers to any collective action undertaken by Union members in order to put pressure on an Employer. These might include: refusing to work overtime, wearing Union buttons to work, refusing work not in your job descriptions, etc. You will be guided by your Union Executive Committee.

Our strength as a Union comes when we act together in solidarity. The more members participating in an action, the greater the impact and the louder the voice. Collective job action shows the Employer that Union members are invested in getting a fair contract, and are unified in their support of the Union’s proposals. Furthermore, if job action is effective in its earlier, less intense stages, there will be no need to escalate to full work stoppage (pickets).