I became active in the union because we had new management come in “guns blazing.” The previous management seemed understanding, but the new guys came in wanting to enforce policy that in my opinion was not actually policy. I got written up a lot more under this new management and had to consistently attend hearings to defend myself. I eventually came to believe that part of the reason I was getting disciplined because someone in a higher position had a personal problem with me.
When I decided to go to steward training, I first read the contract on my own. I also read the university policies and even talked to other stewards that I knew. I’m used to holding my own whether it’s in or outside the workplace. Becoming a steward felt natural to me. I’m outspoken because I don’t want to be treated unfairly. I believe in treating people equally, but sometimes you have to speak up to make sure you get the respect we all deserve. In my workplace, many workers now rely on me to speak for them when they have unfair rules imposed on them.
Currently, I’m at University of Illinois at Chicago and Chicago Public Schools work sites making sure people sign up to become full members and contribute to COPE. I’ve also identified people that I think have potential to be stewards themselves. Many workers will often rely on union representatives to help them when there’s a problem, but I tell them they don’t have to wait. If they train to be stewards, they can help themselves and their co-workers.
I understand not everyone will immediately get on board with the union. Nothing is perfect and sometimes people hesitate to sign up as members or they hesitate to become leaders. I know that we can’t just sit back and wait for change to come. You have to be a part of the change. Our membership numbers would not have changed if I wasn’t putting in the work to sign them up. We also would not be improving as a union if I wasn’t putting in the work to clearly communicate with my union. I know a lot of workers haven’t had good communication with the union in a long time, but I’m working to change that too. I hope that with more time and effort we can eventually build the worker power to have stewards that can address every members questions and concerns. Change comes gradually, but it does come.