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Steward Notes: Tackling staffing challenges

Short staffing impacts everyone, including the work you do as a steward. Here are some tips to deal with working short.

Feb 28, 2024

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By Rae Carlson, Communications Staff 

One of the most daunting challenges a union steward can face is when the worksite is not fully staffed. While this might seem like the employer’s problem, the effects of working short ripple throughout the whole worksite and increases the workload for staff and union stewards alike.

Working short

Working short means that tasks may be done unsafely, outside of best practices, or not at all. Workers with more experience may step in and perform duties outside of their scope because they do not have time to help or train others. Workers with less experience may eventually stop asking for help, choosing instead to work in silos and suffer in silence.

It can take years to undo the damage caused by mismanagement and working short. It's more important than ever to have the discussions that lead to change and bring that energy to the bargaining table.

As a steward, encourage your fellow AUPE members to report when they are working short. If enough members fill out working short reports, our experiences can offer valuable leverage at the bargaining table.  

Members can fill out a working short report here.

Consider the following questions when documenting working short incidents:

  •     Which tasks were not completed due to short staffing?
  •     Was work done inadequately due to short staffing?
  •     Did working short create a workplace safety issue?

Direct Action

One of our most powerful tools to fix problems at the worksite is called direct action. Direct action can be as simple as encouraging each other to take your breaks together, put in for all the hours you worked, and ensure management does not pressure you to pick up the slack for their decision to not staff properly.

Another way direct action can be used to deal with working short problems is by pressuring management to hire more staff. Your first action could be an open letter addressed to management asking them to deal with the problem. From there you can turn up the heat with a lunchroom meeting with your coworkers to talk about the problem, then addressing the problem with management all together in person. If that doesn’t work, it might be time for a rally. The sky really is the limit. They key to success is to play the long game and keep steady, constant pressure on your employer.  

AUPE’s Workplace Power course is a great place to start if you want to learn how to organize around these problems. You can register for Workplace Power and other AUPE education courses here.


Short staffing is a complex issue which requires thoughtful discussion and committed action. Part of your role as a steward is to support your coworkers when short staffing impacts them. In the long run, the best way to prevent and reverse the damage inflicted by short staffing is to make significant gains in bargaining.

As a union steward, your activism sets the tone for the whole job site, but remember to be smart about it: keep conversations about bargaining and the union limited to unpaid break times and don’t try to do everything yourself. For example, you can encourage workers to politely ask direct questions of management, such as:

  •     When will the vacant position be filled?
  •     What tasks will be de-prioritized to meet this deadline?
  •     What is the plan to address our scheduling issues in this department?

Finally, once the discussion is happening amongst your coworkers, it's time to compile your concerns and present them to your negotiators. AUPE can help prepare a survey based on the unique concerns of your job site, and then it’s up to you and your negotiating team to fight for what matters to you.

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