Becoming a Steward?

     Are you thinking of becoming a Union Steward? Does the idea of making the company listen to you, and maybe some of your gripes about the way they treat people, appeal to you? Do you carry the ‘secret wish” to make them sorry they ever messed with you in the first place? Do you want to pay them back for the warning letter they tried to give you over production last year?
                            Maybe you’re a candidate to become a steward!Me! Me! Pick me!
     By the time most drivers reach their two year anniversary with the company, they suddenly decide they do not care for the treatment they get on a day to day basis. They get tired of the excessive hours. They get tired of the ridiculous splits. They get tired of busting their ass only to have management claim they didn’t do it fast enough, or they got a customer complaint, or whatever dozen reasons the company can give for badgering, and harassing them. What’s a good driver to do?
                                                        Become the steward, and pay them back!
Of course that idea is usually easier said, than done. Most drivers have little contact with the Local Union, (that’s a discussion for another day!). they also probably are relatively unknown to the Business Agent for the Local. Given all that, how does a potential steward get noticed enough to actually become the steward?
     The easiest way is to attend some of the Local general membership meetings. The dates, and times should be posted on the Union bulletin board somewhere in your center, or building. You will become familiar with the Local officers, and you will also learn a great deal about where your dues money goes. Of course the  officers will also become familiar with you, and so will your B.A. Don’t be shy about raising your hand, and asking questions. Many Union members do not realize that these officers work for the dues paying members of that Local Union. (Sometimes the officers forget that also.) 
     Once you have familiarized yourself with the Local Union, the next step would be to get involved with any steward training seminars offered by the Local, or Locals in your area. Even though you may not be a steward at the time, most Locals will allow you to attend in the hope that you will be easy to slip in as a trained steward should the occasion arise. 
The seminars will give you a basic knowledge of the Union contract, and the applicable supplement for your region. They will also discuss your rights as a steward in many situations that arise daily. That information is probably more important even than specific contractual language. You need to know what you have the right to do, and what you better not do.
     All of the contractual stuff can be fixed tomorrow, if you make a mistake. If you call for a walkout, or a sickout, etc. you can be terminated on the spot, so it’s important to know your rights as a steward.
     Often becoming a steward is just being in the right place, at the right time. At the risk of telling an “old guy” story I can tell you how I became a steward 30 years ago. I started as a loader part time when I was going to school. In my desire to move ahead I took a position as a part-time supervisor for a couple of years. In those days you could move from management back into driving, so I became a driver at the first opportunity. The company gives management “labor relations” training, so that management knows how to get around the contract, and how to use and abuse their employees. I was well trained by the company. After learning that I needed to sell my soul to stay in management, I decided that staying a driver was the place for me.
     After hitting the proverbial two years, an opening came for an alternate steward. My having a good background on the contract already made me an instant candidate. I thought being an alternate steward was no big deal, so I said OK. Little did I know that the current steward of the time, was closely involved with the Local politics, and when the “wrong people” were elected into power, he up and quit. Suddenly I was the heir apparent, and was thrust into being the steward after only 2 months as alternate. I finally had to retire 31 years later to stop being the steward. (The one thing I hated to leave).
     My point to you is to pay attention to the situation in your center. If there is an alternate position empty and available, fill it. There is no better way to learn than by doing. Do not fear doing anything wrong. You will gain huge respect from your cohorts for trying.  My first rule of being a steward is, “do something, even if it’s wrong”. 
oming forward as a steward can be one of the most rewarding things you will do. It also gives you a sense of purpose in what can otherwise be a demeaning, degrading job situation. Other people’s future can come to be placed in your hands. You will be able to take pride in helping your fellow drivers get through their careers, even if no one ever says thank you.
     I was nuts, and did it for 30 years, and enjoyed every minute, (OK every other minute), of it. I encourage you to do the same.