Job Stewards Shifting Our Union

Over 150 MoveUP job stewards from across several different workplaces gathered today in Vancouver for the annual Job Steward Seminar, a weekend-long intensive training session for stewards. This year’s theme is “Shifting Our Union,” a reference to stewards’ role in helping evolve our union to keep pace with changing times.

Before the workshops, stewards were given an orientation by Vice-President and Education Committee Chair Gwenne Farrell and President David Black gave welcoming remarks.

“I’m inspired by the number of new stewards we have here getting training; it shows our union is growing and getting stronger. I’m also very pleased to see returning stewards getting more training, increasing their capacity to serve our members and build our union,” said Black.

Black noted the changes that have occurred in the last twenty years since he became involved with MoveUP, both in terms of our employers, our union, and the labour movement worldwide.

“The workplace is changing, job security is becoming more and more elusive, there’s more precarious work like temp work, part-time work, contract work…Unions, especially in the U.S., have seen their bargaining power and clout begin to erode,” Black said.

Black reflected on innovative strategies adopted by the labour movement, such as mobilizing non-unionized workers with union support to raise standards for everyone – for example the fight for a $15/hour minimum wage.

In terms of our union’s future, Black said our union is changing to meet the challenges of the times. Part of that is empowering job stewards to defend members in the workplaces.

“It saves your union money, and it saves the reps time, allowing them to concentrate what the members tell us is their number one priority: negotiating good agreements. But even more importantly, it raises the profile of the union in the workplace…‘The union’ becomes ‘our union,’ with the face of the union as the workplace steward who is available, responsive, and capable in assisting the members with their everyday problems,” said Black.

There is no doubt the most important job in the union is the Steward, and I proudly wear my MoveUP Job Steward pin, because while I’m proud to be President of MoveUP, I’m most proud that I’m a MoveUP Job Steward,” Black concluded.

Next, stewards heard from keynote speaker, Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart. Stewart delivered an inspiring speech thanking job stewards for stepping up to be agents of change in their workplaces and encouraging them to expand the change to their communities and governments.

“Change starts with you and the one question you need to ask yourself is, ‘Am I a change agent?’ Am I somebody who’s going to change things or am I somebody who’s not going to change things?”

Stewart gave a personal example about trying to make change as a Member of Parliament. When he got elected, he knew he wanted to do something to promote democracy, but he also had to pick something that was achievable under a Conservative government.

“I didn’t think I had any chance at all. I worked on this for three years. I was able to talk to people I didn’t usually talk to…and find a little bit of common ground,” Stewart said. In the end, the vote passed 142-140.

“It’s those little incremental things that will make a difference. I want to applaud you for the decision you’ve made as job stewards to step up and start speaking for people in your workplace. That’s the only way we ever do anything is to work together, for some people to take a risk and lead,” Stewart said.

After the plenary session, stewards got together with people from their own workplaces or sectors. In these breakout groups, stewards got to discuss workplace-specific issues and to ask questions to their staff and elected union representatives.

After lunch, job stewards broke into their main training sessions, on which they will focus for the rest of the weekend. Stewards will train in one of the following areas: Bullying and Harassment, Conflict Resolution, Facing Management, Job Evaluation, Job Steward Levels 1 and 2, Occupational Health and Safety, Organizing and Our Union.

Also at the seminar, MoveUP Board Member for ICBC Joyce Galuska was honoured with the 2015 Ardell Brophy Award. The award is given out each year to a steward who demonstrates fierce dedication and commitment to their union, and who provides mentorship to new union activists.