Whether you’re investigating the issues that affect your coworkers, or preparing for a grievance, having 1-on-1 conversations is the most important thing to do.
Have you ever sent a lot of emails, posted on social media every day, or put up posters all over town only for no one to show up at your big event? If that’s the case, you probably did not have enough 1-on-1 conversations.
As much as new technology helps us communicate with each other, hurling hundreds of notifications into the digital void cannot replace in-person experiences. We are all simply too busy to pay attention to every message we receive and, because they’re less personable, emails and electronic invitations are easier to ignore.
1-on-1 conversations are the best way to communicate with your coworkers. It’s also the best way to organize—that’s just a fact. You’ve probably heard this a lot if you’re an engaged AUPE activist. Longtime union members, elected leadership, and staff members preach the gospel of 1-on-1 conversations again and again because, simply put, they work!
So what do we mean by 1-on-1 conversations? How are they special? And why are they important for you as a union steward?
1-on-1 conversations are the bedrock of successful union organizing. Do you want to find out what worksite issues are bothering your colleagues? Have 1-on-1 conversations. Do you need to collect information or testimony in order to help a colleague prepare for an investigation meeting or grievance hearing? You should definitely have 1-on-1 conversations.
1-on-1 conversations about union activism should follow a simple pattern. First, you need to find out the issues that matter to your coworkers. You probably already know about the big issues at your workplace, but it’s better to let your coworkers tell you themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask how workplace problems affect them personally; the most emotional issues are often the most important to resolve.
The next best step is to help them discover how you could make things better. As a steward, you know to not rely on hearsay or rumours when it comes to issues at your workplace. This is another reason why having 1-on-1 conversations is so important. Hearing about issues first-hand will help you identify potential grievances before they happen. That can save you a lot of time and, if problems persist, help you win those future grievances.
Next comes one of the most important parts of a 1-on-1 conversation: you are going to want to prepare your coworker for any retaliation your boss might take after you decide to fight back. Bosses love to punish workers, even for filing an ordinary grievance. Part of your job as a steward is to ensure your coworkers understand how management might try to punish them for standing up for themselves.
Punishing workers for filing a grievance or being involved in the union is truly unacceptable behavior from any employer. It should never happen, but it can. As a steward, you should document any retaliation by the employer and inform your Membership Services Officer. But the key course of action is, once again, having those constant conversations with your coworker. It’s your responsibility to help them and ensure they feel supported.
Any union steward or organizer should follow these steps for having a worksite conversation. If you don’t, you risk making things more difficult for yourself when you help your colleagues deal with their problems at work. Stewards like you know the ins and outs of dealing with bad bosses, but we must recognize that not every AUPE member is as experienced as you. Your coworkers will trust you and feel more confident if you’ve taken the time to listen and understand how they feel.