NANAIMO—Over 70 seasoned and new stewards participated in the first-ever Vancouver Island Stewards Conference last weekend. The conference kicked off on Thursday, September 30 with a welcome event featuring CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill and guest speaker Murray Langdon, past president of his local at CHEK 6.
Louise Oetting, president of the Vancouver Island District Council introduced the planning committee and reviewed the agenda. She thanked CUPE BC and CUPE National for the materials in the kit bags, the donation of door prizes, and for sponsoring the two social evenings that were an opportunity for stewards to meet each other and network.
The role of stewards
Barry O’Neill thanked stewards for their hard work and spoke about the important role they play in the union.
“Stewards are the heart and soul of our union,” said O’Neill. “It’s a way bigger job than knowing about your collective agreement.”
O’Neill spoke about the work CUPE members do across B.C. to keep communities sustainable. He touched on the “Ten Per Cent Shift” campaign that CUPE BC will be launching in the near future. The campaign focuses on how CUPE members can make a difference in generating new revenue streams. ‘Sustainable communities come from hard work,” said O’Neill. “I would entrust that to you more than I would entrust it to anyone else I know.”
The leadership component of stewarding
Guest speaker Murray Langdon shared his experience as the president of a broadcasters’ union in Alberta and spoke about the leadership component of stewarding.
“As a steward you become a resource, a friend, an ally,” Langdon told the crowd. “But in itself, it’s being a leader – accepting responsibility to listen to questions and take leadership.”
Langdon’s union had 70 members and one third of them were stewards. He noted that the role of the steward varies from local to local. He challenged the audience to examine their structure and ask if they have representation of everyone in the workforce. He said that unions are not about asking for more money and that belonging to a union means being a part of a community.
Langdon said that understanding your collective agreement is crucial to good stewarding. He noted that fairness and equity is important as well.
“We built a relationship with supervisors, management and the company,” said Langdon. “We had clearly defined objectives and an armada of people coming forward. We came armed with knowledge and understanding.
Langdon closed by saying that you can control how you represent your peers. “It requires sacrifice and knowledge. The energy you bring means collectively we all benefit.”
Steward education opportunities
Education Representative Greg Burkitt brought greetings from Union Development. He explained CUPE’s exciting new education program, the Steward Learning Series. The series includes an introductory course that replaces “Basic, Effective Stewarding” followed by a series of topic-specific modules that replace “Advanced Stewarding.”
Stewards are required to complete 7 mandatory modules, 3 of which are about equity issues. The modules cover a wide variety of topics, all geared towards what a steward would need to know about the topic.
The Steward Learning Series Passport will allow stewards to track the courses they have taken. At the end of the program stewards receive a certificate and a pin.
Courses, scenarios and sessions
The weekend conference offered four different courses over two days: Handling Grievances; Being an Ally for Equality; Building Your Case; and Resolving Grievances.
An Interactive session was held on Friday at lunch with arbitrator Mark Brown. Brown shared evidence with delegates about a variety of cases and asked them to predict the outcomes. Delegates worked in groups and discussed the evidence and predicted the result before Brown revealed actual outcomes and the reason why.
On Saturday, Debbie Cameron from the BC Labour Board gave an overview of the BC Labour Code, Section 12, and the mediation process.
Delegates shared campaigns that locals had done for collective action. They worked on different scenarios and made a plan to engage the membership and take direct collective action to resolve the issue. Scenarios covered everything from dealing with a bully manager to creating pressure to help an employee with terminal cancer who was terminated.
CUPE National sends greetings
The Stewards Conference included two social nights. Greetings, thanks, and best wishes from CUPE National President Paul Moist and Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux were read to delegates. The officers noted that 2010 is CUPE’s year of the steward.
“The stewards’ work is fundamental in defending our members in the workplace, at the bargaining table, and in our public place,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist.
“As 2010 is CUPE’s year of the steward, your event is key in making certain stewards are not only recognized, but are able to learn and exchange with other activists,” said Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux.
Both Moist and Généreux thanked stewards for the work they do, their involvement, dedication and the time they give to CUPE.
Entertainment and fun
Stewards enjoyed two evening social events that provided an opportunity to mingle, share stories, and make new friends.
On Friday evening members were treated to a one-act play about the life of Ginger Goodwin, starring CUPE 3570 member Harvey LaLonde.
More fun was to be had on Saturday when delegates played Labour Relations Bingo.