Being a steward is not always easy. It can take a lot of time – both paid and personal – and it’s often thankless. But, win or lose, fighting for fairness and standing up for members is rewarding work. About 15 UFCW 1518 stewards affirmed their commitment to this important work at a swearing in ceremony held at the main office last month.
For Sartaj Birring, taking on the role of shop steward was a way to create a happier, more peaceful work environment. “The nights I worked made me available to the younger staff, who were not aware of the union or their rights,” explains the Safeway worker. “I soon found myself stepping up to make a difference in my workplace.” As a new steward, Birring gained confidence by taking Shop Steward Fundamentals, a course taught by UFCW 1518 union representatives. “Being young, not knowing much about unions…I did not have the confidence or drive to make a difference. Upon taking the class, I became a lot more knowledgeable not only about my role, but also about the collective agreement.”
Birring quickly put her steward training to good use. When a colleague informed her that front end staff were being pressured to perform work outside their listed duties, she began raising awareness about the collective agreement. “Letting employees know about…their rights proved to be helpful: soon the front end staff were no longer feeling pressured to complete tasks outside of their required job duties. It was the feeling of empowerment that made the impact.”
Brad Johnston was also sworn in at the ceremony. A longtime Safeway employee, Johnston was motivated to become a steward out of a sense of fairness. “I was tired of seeing people treated unfairly and not get what they were entitled to,” he says. Johnston has been a steward for more than 20 years, taking his own personal oath before being officially sworn in. “I always told myself that I have to be accountable and do the best I can for people, treat them respectfully, and develop credibility and honesty.”
The most rewarding thing about being a steward for Johnston is earning a reputation as an honest, caring person: “You’re not always going to get what the member wants, but when somebody who wasn’t involved in a grievance comes up to you out of the blue and says, that was a really great thing you did for that person, that makes it all worthwhile.”