When you decided to become a steward, you took a big step. Clearly you had the
leadership skills and passion it takes to stand up for your fellow workers. Yet there are certain parts about being a steward that no one can learn until they become one. The best way to prepare a new steward is to serve as a mentor and provide the motivation and guidance so that all our coworkers have someone who they can count on.
Doug Payton of Local 1546 remembers how nervous he was when he first became a steward. A three-year steward at the Tyson plant in Josslyn, Ill., Payton knows firsthand how important it is to mentor new stewards. “I look at new stewards as an addition to the
family. We need to show them we are here to support one another.” If it weren’t for the older stewards who took him under their wings, Payton would have had a much more difficult time learning the ropes.
Becoming a steward means adding responsibility that presents a whole new set of challenges.
Even though new stewards are trained to face these new obstacles,nothing replaces the lessons learned from personal experience. “You learn as you go. When you start, there’s no way of knowing everything there is to know about being a good steward.” That’s why it’s important to reach out to new stewards and share the knowledge you have gained throughout the years.
Payton makes it a point to befriend new stewards. He’ll approach new stewards and let
them know they can come to him whenever they need help or advice, and makes it clear that asking a lot of questions aids the learning process. “A lot of times the solution to a problem isn’t spelled out in the contract. Not everything is black and white and new stewards can always count on us to help them deal with the different shades of gray.”
Payton knows how much of a steward’s effectiveness depends on how a particular situation is approached, so he offers advice based on the tactics which have worked for him under similar circumstances. This involves making sure new stewards know how to address management and deal with specific supervisors to better communicate the concerns of coworkers.
It’s also important to keep new stewards motivated. After years of being a steward, the hardest thing for Payton is still accepting that you can’t win every battle. When he sees new stewards getting frustrated or discouraged, he reminds them of their important role in the union. “When new stewards aren’t able to help a worker, I tell them it’s just one apple in the
whole tree. We hate that it fell off, but we have to fight for the other apples. We need to stay focused on the big picture.”
Payton still looks to his senior stewards for advice and inspiration. All stewards can learn from
one another because everyone has a different approach. Payton points out that sometimes the tactics of different stewards can be integrated—that’s how stronger and more effective stewards who are ready to deal with different kinds of situations are built. “We
are always learning from one another. Knowledge is power— that’s why we have to make sure
new stewards are prepared.”
In the end, by serving as a mentor, Payton not only helps to develop better stewards, he also contributes to building a more powerful union.