I consider myself a fairly involved member of my local. I’ve served as steward for 8 years, participated in committees, attended workshops. A few years ago, I took a big leap: I ran for an elected position (Collective Bargaining Committee). Most of this has just been me grasping at things that I thought sounded interesting at the time, but I’ve often found myself wishing that I’d gotten involved sooner. If I’d known what was involved in some of these opportunities, I would have gone for them much earlier on!
With that in mind, I thought it could be worthwhile to document the different ways I engage with my local throughout the year, in the hopes that it may inspire some of you to seek similar opportunities in your own locals.
For post #1 in this series, I think I should talk about how I got started in all of this back in 2012 and wound up as my school’s steward.
I don’t come from a union background. My parents have never been members of a union and we never really talked about unions – positively or negatively. I wasn’t an OT for very long, primarily because of the perpetual FSL shortage, but I attended a few informational meetings while I was. Then, in 2012, I was hired into a permanent position at the school where I had been working as an LTO teacher.
At that time, we were in the midst of contract negotiations. The steward at my school had been steward for a long time, upwards of 10 years, and she suggested that I tag along to a few meetings to see what it was like. I’m the first to admit that I’m a highly curious person with serious FOMO (fear of missing out), so I liked the idea of going to the meeting and hearing more about our bargaining situation first-hand.
At the meeting, I got to see the union in action. We heard from released officers, committee chairs, stewards. We had opportunities to ask questions, table motions, and interact directly with the people elected to represent us. It was thrilling for me. Who knew I liked meetings so much?! I loved hearing from people from all over my board. Until that first meeting, I hadn’t fully realized how much things could vary from school to school. It was also fascinating to hear people speak so passionately about their areas of expertise, whether that was in LTD, Health and Safety, equity, bargaining, etc.
After that first meeting, I started attending more often with my steward, serving as a de facto alternate. She helped me navigate some of the intricacies of being a steward, what the different acronyms meant (because oh BOY are there a lot of acronyms that everyone seems to just assume you know!), who the long-time stewards are that I could ask questions of, some of the history of our local. She started including me in some of her interactions with colleagues so that I could see what it meant to be a steward at the school level.
When we staged our one-day political protest, I was volunteered to be picket captain. I’d never held a picket sign in my life, and suddenly there I was, responsible for rallying my colleagues and managing the site. Whoa! But also, super energizing!
The following year, I officially took over as steward, giving my colleague a much-needed break. I served as steward for my school from that point until the end of last year, through good times and bad, seeing them through some of the most tumultuous times I’ll ever see in both my personal life and my professional life. There were long days, but I really, really loved the sense of purpose and connection I felt in serving as steward. I also learned so much about my union that I never would have known otherwise!
This year, I’ve stepped back as steward – in part to try to encourage some of my colleagues to become more involved, and in part because I need to take a break to focus on some things in my personal life. It feels so strange not being the point person for communication, questions, problem solving. At the same time, I’m excited to see my colleagues getting more involved. I hope one of them finds it all as interesting as I do.
If you’ve been wondering what it’s like to be steward or you even just want to learn more about your local, I urge you to reach out to your school steward and see if you can attend a meeting. You just might find that you love the job!