BECOMING INDUSTRIAL Strength
Our members in the Industrial sector—which runs the gamut from meat processing plants to recycling centres—are tough. As UFCW 1518 Executive Board member and Grand River Foods employee Rajiv Mehra says, “we are pushed a lot.”
He describes his own work environment as incredibly cold and wet, but it’s all because of the union that workers like him have the health protections and work wear that they need to do the job safely and well.
What these physical workspaces lack in warmth, our members make up for with care, community, and vitality. The Industrial sector boasts one of the strongest networks of engaged and vocal Shop Stewards, who take great care to protect their coworkers. Consistently, they act as both a buffer between the shop floor and the employer, as well as a liaison between the larger union and their coworkers.
Avalon Dairy member Clint Dennett is one of these Stewards. “I was in it before we were even certified. I took it on as a challenge. [Stewards] are pretty much the leaders around here—we try to bring everybody together and on board.”
Inspiring passion and power in their coworkers will be the next big challenge for these leaders. The more members who are willing to speak up, enforce their collective agreement, and use the union’s platform to advance causes that they value, the stronger the union and the better their wages and working conditions will be. Dennett agrees and says that mentorship and education for members will be key because the Stewards can’t be everywhere at once. Mehra notes that shifts in demographics must be considered when talking about empowering workers too. When he first started at Grand River Foods, many languages were spoken among staff.
Update Magazine sat down with Mehra, Dennett and other passionate industrial activists to ask them how the union has improved their workplace, and how their coworkers can get more involved.
How has unionizing benefited your workplace?
James Commodore (Avalon Dairy): Respect. A lot more. We don’t have a lot of the bullying from management anymore because we have rights now. We have a voice. Things have changed quite a bit for the better.
Rajiv Mehra (Grand River Foods): Job security. If the employer has done something wrong, you can approach the union through your Shop Stewards—they’re the first people on the floor, elected by the members. We’ve seen many times when people are terminated from the shop. When you’re nonunionized you have no rights to come back to work. But when you’re unionized, we can fight to bring people back and get them their job back.
Clint Dennett (Avalon Dairy): I’m glad we got a constant rep. When [Union Rep] Michael came in, it was like a safety net, so
now we can move forward. He’s here—and it’s good for the members to see him. It’s that reinforcement of ‘look the union’s here.’
What advice would you give to members who want to get more involved?
Mehra: Call the union! See the benefits that your union has. They will support you in every aspect, wherever you are. You need their help, they come. Nobody can harass you, nobody can push you, nobody can bully you—these are the advantages the union has. And without the union, you can’t get all these benefits.
Dennett: I would say, ‘do it.’ That one class that we took online, you learn so much. You think you know a lot, but as soon as you do a class you learn so much more.