Being a steward is not always easy. It can take a lot of time – both paid and personal – and it’s often thankless. But, win or lose, fighting for fairness and standing up for members is rewarding work. About 15 UFCW 1518 stewards affirmed their commitment to this important work at a swearing in ceremony held at the main office last month.
For Sartaj Birring, taking on the role of shop steward was a way to create a happier, more peaceful work environment. “The nights I worked made me available to the younger staff, who were not aware of the union or their rights,” explains the Safeway worker. “I soon found myself stepping up to make a difference in my workplace.” As a new steward, Birring gained confidence by taking Shop Steward Fundamentals, a course taught by UFCW 1518 union representatives. “Being young, not knowing much about unions…I did not have the confidence or drive to make a difference. Upon taking the class, I became a lot more knowledgeable not only about my role, but also about the collective agreement.”
Birring quickly put her steward training to good use. When a colleague informed her that front end staff were being pressured to perform work outside their listed duties, she began raising awareness about the collective agreement. “Letting employees know about…their rights proved to be helpful: soon the front end staff were no longer feeling pressured to complete tasks outside of their required job duties. It was the feeling of empowerment that made the impact.”
Brad Johnston was also sworn in at the ceremony. A longtime Safeway employee, Johnston was motivated to become a steward out of a sense of fairness. “I was tired of seeing people treated unfairly and not get what they were entitled to,” he says. Johnston has been a steward for more than 20 years, taking his own personal oath before being officially sworn in. “I always told myself that I have to be accountable and do the best I can for people, treat them respectfully, and develop credibility and honesty.”
The most rewarding thing about being a steward for Johnston is earning a reputation as an honest, caring person: “You’re not always going to get what the member wants, but when somebody who wasn’t involved in a grievance comes up to you out of the blue and says, that was a really great thing you did for that person, that makes it all worthwhile.”
As British Columbia remains under a state of emergency and wildfires continue to ravage the province, UFCW 1518 has pledged $100,000 to relief efforts.
“This is devastating for our members and all British Columbians who live in communities affected by wildfires,” says President Ivan Limpright.
To date, 44,000 people have been displaced, among them hundreds of UFCW 1518 members. At one point, more than 150 wildfires burned, making this one of the worst wildfire seasons in BC’s history. While thousands of people were able to return home as fires came under control and evacuation notices were lifted, some have nothing left to return to.
“At least one of our members has lost their home and hundreds of others were evacuated. It’s critical that we support them in this very difficult time.” UFCW 1518 also made an appeal for financial support to other UFCW locals across the country, adds Limpright. “Unions have always helped – it’s what we do. And with a natural disaster like this, everyone’s got to do their part. It’s that simple.”
UFCW 1518 members evacuated due to wildfires can fill in this form to apply for financial support. If you know of a UFCW 1518 member who has been evacuated due to wildfires please share this information.
Active, engaged members are the heart of any union. That’s why UFCW 1518 has been focused on increasing involvement and participation of members. In 2014, the union struck a working group to envision ways to boost member engagement in an effort to improve the effectiveness and relevance of our work. Creating a stronger sense of ownership over the union and meaningfully involving members in issues that matter to them were key objectives.
“We knew we needed to explore new ways of connecting with our members,” says Nan Fredericks, executive board member and chair of the Women’s Committee. “We had to figure out how to be relevant to the younger generations and help them understand that they have input into our union, that their voice is important. We need to hear from them as much as they need to hear from us.”
To that end, the Women’s Committee reached out to members of all ages by hosting an annual picnic. Now in its fourth year, the UFCW 1518 picnic attracts upwards of 400 members and their families to Queens Park in New Westminster. “We have multi-generational workplaces everywhere,” explains Fredericks. “The picnic is a chance for all of our members to connect on a social level. From there, we hope they will be encouraged to become more involved – to participate in the union at the store or unit level, or come out to a union meeting.”
The success of the annual picnic inspired executive board members to organize union-sponsored social events in their home communities. “We now participate in Pride in Nelson, Prince George, Victoria and Vancouver. And there are Christmas parties in Kelowna and Prince George, as well as the one we co-host with UFCW 247 in Burnaby every year,” Fredericks says.
“We talk to everyone,” she adds. “We try to be as welcoming as possible and show a different side of the union. It’s important to highlight that although we come from different sectors and communities, we’re all UFCW 1518 members. People are really responsive to being welcomed.”
If you would like to help organize a UFCW 1518 social event in your community, please contact your union representative.
Precarious labour – work that is insecure, non-unionized and low-paying – is the hallmark of today’s workforce, both a product and casualty of neoliberal globalization. Workers are told they will hold multiple jobs over time and often more than one job at the same time.
Unionization is a bulwark against employment precarity. Collectively bargained contracts enshrine job protection, seniority, benefits and wage progression – none of which are guaranteed by non-unionized employment. Unionized workers across Canada earn more than their non-union counterparts. For women, who have historically faced discrimination in the workplace and typically head up single parent households, the benefits are even greater.
UFCW 1518 members at the Shoppers Drug Mart in Cloverdale moved away from precarity when they ratified their new collective agreement on June 21. The three-year deal brought wage increases as well as a lump sum payment for longer term members and retroactive pay for newer members.
“Negotiations were challenging, but our bargaining committee was steady and determined,” says president Ivan Limpright of stewards Laurie Lambert and Lorene Stirling. “This store is one of only four unionized Shoppers Drug Marts in British Columbia. We are proud of their achievement in getting a fair contract.”
Unionized workers fare better than their non-unionized counterparts, fighting for and winning things like guaranteed wage increases, dental and health benefits, as well as a pension plan. “No doubt, the advantage of having a union to stand together with you against the employer is huge,” Limpright adds. “And with each round of bargaining, we strive to make the collective agreement even stronger, and clear the path towards a living wage and a better life for our members.”