“One of the things about being a steward is you get away from catch phrases and cliches and get into the specifics for the agency of what we have won,” says Michelle Jones, a union steward who has been with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).
In a short period of time, Jones has become a strong leader in her workplace supporting her coworkers to protect the contract and keep equitable working conditions. Jones joined ODFW two and a half years ago and soon became a steward so that she could help to keep issues like disability in the front of everyone’s vision of workplace equity.
“I became a steward mainly because I think it’s important that if you are someone who has capacity to help others that you should. On a personal level, I was really interested in making sure things like disability and FMLA were being protected by the agency because I have a medical condition,” says Jones. “It has been rewarding by knowing that I have been making a difference in people’s lives who really need support in the workplace.”
Becoming a steward unveiled the ongoing issues even a great workplace like ODFW has, and the fact that maintaining fair working conditions requires constant vigilance. The union contract is only a helpful and protective document if there are people willing to enforce it and root out violations, which is at the heart of union stewardship.
“It has been kind of eye opening in my experience because I have been treated well by teh agency, so I was kind of unaware there were any issues until I started working with other people who were not in as fortunate of a situation,” says Jones.
As an active steward she has learned a great deal about what it takes to be a good advocate in the workplace, and the complicated role a steward has in both confronting workplace problems and working with members. While contract violations often seem as though they are going to be black-and-white problems, there is actually a great deal of nuance.
“As a steward, you are not a get out of jail free card, you are enforcing a contract and a set of rules. It can be challenging sometimes telling a worker something they don’t want to hear,” says Jones.
This background is giving her a lot of information on what the next round of contract negotiations should include, and the Letter of Agreement that we negotiated with the State of Oregon to protect workers during the pandemic have added even more tools to her toolbelt.
“People should become a steward for quite a few reasons. One being that you’re going to educate yourself on your own rights and contract,” says Jones. “Having knowledge is power. So knowing your rights is always beneficial. It is also always good to become a steward because if you have the ability and capacity it is your moral responsibility to empower others as well.”
Now is a great time to get trained on important stewarding skills, which you can do from home with our new remote Contract Enforcement Trainings!