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Steward Notes: Teach a member to fish

Many hands make light work. Mentoring members reduces your workload as a steward and helps us take action to support bargaining.

May 30, 2024

By Jon Olsen, Communications Staff

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Being a steward is a lot of work. On any given day, you may go from protecting a member against discipline to mediating difficult interactions between colleagues. 

The extra workload stewards take on can be a challenge. Time spent performing your duties as a steward means time away from your regular employment duties—and this work still needs to be done. AUPE members have crushing workloads as it is, and the extra time and energy you put in as a steward can lead to burnout.  

But you don’t have to go it alone. Help is all around you if you take the time to mentor and motivate your coworkers.  

How you approach your role as a steward can make the difference between handling all the problems yourself or having an engaged, united worksite. A steward who chooses a solitary approach can face long hours dealing with cases and questions, and often there aren’t enough hours in the day to respond to all the other requests you receive. On the other hand, stewards who take a little time educating their colleagues build workplace power while lightening their own workload. 

To paraphrase a proverb: give a member a steward and they have an advocate on a specific issue; teach a member their rights and they can advocate for themselves (in certain situations).  

Not everyone wants to go toe-to-toe with their employer, and that's okay. That’s why we have stewards. Nevertheless, many members can solve smaller worksite issues for themselves with some guidance and education. Mentoring your coworkers frees up time for you to deal with the more complex problems that may arise at your worksite.  

When a member comes to you with questions about an article in the collective agreement, such as, “How many sick days do we have?” or “Do I have the right to refuse dangerous work?” your instinct might be to give a quick answer and get back to what you were doing. But taking the time to walk them through these articles will save you time in the long run. The more knowledge your members have about their collective agreement, the better prepared they will be to protect their own rights on the worksite.  

Don’t underestimate your fellow members. After all, there was a time when you weren’t a steward either. It is amazing what AUPE members can do with a little guidance, motivation, and solidarity. 

Fostering an engaged, united workplace is all the more important during bargaining. A record number of AUPE members are in bargaining this year, and the number of rallies and info-pickets will increase in the coming months. As a leader on your worksite, part of your responsibility is encouraging members to support our negotiating teams through solidarity actions, such as joining the Time for Action bargaining town halls in June. Your work is vital in motivating your coworkers to join these events.  

As bargaining heats up this summer, stewards are more important than ever. Take the time to be a mentor on your worksite. Solidarity is vital for your coworkers, for bargaining, and most importantly, for you and your health. 

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