New steward course teaches contracts, confidence

How do I talk to management? When should I refuse unsafe work? What constitutes a grievance? Stewards from around the Lower Mainland learned the answer to these questions and more at Shop Steward Fundamentals, a new course offered by UFCW 1518.

The two-day beginner course focuses on the essential skills every steward needs to advocate for members and help the union in its fight for fairness in the workplace. Topics include investigating grievances, engaging members, meeting with management, and taking notes.

“Note taking sounds really boring,” comments union representative and facilitator Ashley Campbell. “But it’s a really important skill! A steward’s notes could end up as evidence in an arbitration, so it’s critical that they be accurate.”

Stewards also learn about key areas, such as discipline and occupational health and safety. “Those are hot topics for our members, particularly bullying and harassment, which now falls under the purview of WorkSafeBC” explains Campbell. “The respectful workplace language in our collective agreements helps our members understand that is the employer’s responsibility to provide a work environment free from bullying and harassment.”

Another important topic is member engagement, adds Campbell. “As a union, we are nothing without active, informed members. A big part of the steward role is talking to members, teaching them about the collective agreement and getting them involved in the work of the union, both on the job and in the community.”

Shop Steward Fundamentals, which replaces the previous basic steward course, was revamped and modernized to reflect current issues facing our stewards. The mix of different media and a range of hands-on exercises and activities makes for a more dynamic experience, Campbell says. “The steward role can be challenging. Stewards are called upon to be leaders, problem solvers, advocates and mentors. We wanted the course to speak directly to those challenges, so it would be as practical and as relevant possible.”

The most important thing stewards gain through taking the course? “Confidence,” affirms Campbell. “You can see it on their faces and hear it in their voices. Stewards leave here feeling more knowledgeable and better able to do their job.”

Look for more offerings of Shop Steward Fundamentals this summer and fall. Check the Events Calendar for upcoming dates and locations.