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Over 70 seasoned and new stewards participated in the first-ever Vancouver Island Stewards Conference last weekend. The conference kicked off on September 30 with a welcome event featuring CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill and guest speaker Murray Langdon, past president of his local at CHEK 6. Louise Oetting, president of the Vancouver Island District Council, introduced the planning committee and reviewed the agenda.

O’Neill spoke about the work CUPE members do across B.C. to keep communities sustainable. He touched on the “Ten Per Cent Shift” campaign that CUPE BC will be launching in the near future. The campaign focuses on how CUPE members can make a difference in generating new revenue streams.

Sustainable communities come from hard work. I would entrust that to you more than I would entrust it to anyone else I know, said O’Neill. “Stewards are the heart and soul of our union.” 

The leadership component of stewarding

Guest speaker Murray Langdon shared his experience as the president of a broadcasters’ union in Alberta and spoke about the leadership component of stewarding.

Langdon’s union had 70 members and one-third of them were stewards. He challenged the audience to examine their structure and ask if they have representation of everyone in the workforce. He said that unions are not about asking for more money and that belonging to a union means being a part of a community.

Steward education opportunities

Education representative Greg Burkitt explained CUPE’s new education program, the Steward Learning Series. The series includes an introductory course that replaces Basic, Effective Stewarding followed by a series of topic-specific modules that replace Advanced Stewarding. The Steward Learning Series Passport will allow stewards to track the courses they have taken. 

The weekend conference offered four different courses over two days: Handling Grievances, Being an Ally for Equality, Building Your Case and Resolving Grievances.

An interactive session was held with arbitrator Mark Brown. He shared a number of case studies and asked participants to predict the outcomes. Debbie Cameron from the BC Labour Board gave an overview of the BC Labour Code, Section 12, and the mediation process.

Delegates shared campaigns that locals had done for collective action. They created a plan to engage the membership and take collective action to resolve the issue. Scenarios covered everything from dealing with a bully manager to creating pressure to help an employee with terminal cancer who was terminated.

CUPE National sends greetings

Greetings, thanks, and best wishes from CUPE National president Paul Moist and Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux were read to delegates. The officers noted that 2010 is CUPE’s year of the steward.

The stewards’ work is fundamental in defending our members in the workplace, at the bargaining table, and in our public place,” said CUPE National president Paul Moist.

As 2010 is CUPE’s year of the steward, your event is key in making certain stewards are not only recognized, but are able to learn and exchange with other activists,” said Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux.