Work is tough, and for sure you got to be tough to be in construction.
But having issues on the job that aren’t directly related to the challenges of being a professional trades person can definitely make for some long days and foster low morale.
Sound familiar? Maybe you’re dealing with issues on your jobsite right now?
Being asked regularly to work through your scheduled breaks?
Job shack or porta-johns not up to speed?
Concerns with your pay?
For many union members, especially new members, or apprentices, dealing with these issues head on and by themselves may be out of their comfort zone.
So what do you? Contact your council rep?
Sure, that’s an option, but calling in the big guns shouldn’t always be your first choice.
How about looking into the contract yourself? See what it says?
Well, that’s a possibility, but I’ll be the first one to admit that contract language can sometimes be confusing and filled with ambiguity making them difficult to decipher and understand.
So where do you turn?
Well, in this episode of Grit NW we’ll look into the role and responsibilities of union stewards on the job, and why they are so important in keeping a worksite running smoothly.
Hi, I’m Joe Cadwell, the writer producer and host of Grit NW and today I talk with Council Rep and local 70 member Paul Galovin.
Paul is a steward advocate and trainer, and he is going to help us understand what rank-and-file members take on when they step up to the union steward position.
Well learn what personality traits make a good steward and how they develop the skills necessary to become effective jobsite organizers, negotiators, counselors, peacemakers and guardians of our contracts.
This episode is part of my effort to recognize opportunities within our organization for members to step-up and take ownership of their union and their future.
The Show Notes
Grit Nation YouTube Channel
Grit NW webpage
Follow Grit Nation on Instagram
Email comments or suggestions to:
Grit NW is a proud member of the Labor Radio / Podcast Network
De Niro's right. Work is tough, for sure. You got to be tough to be in construction. But having issues on the job that aren't directly related to the challenges of being a professional trades person can definitely make for some long days and foster low morale. Sound familiar? Maybe you're dealing with issues on your job site right now. being asked regularly to work through your schedule breaks. Perhaps the job shack or potty 40s aren't up to speed? Maybe you got concerns with your pay? For many union members, especially new members? Are apprentices dealing with these issues head on by themselves maybe out of their comfort zone? So what do you do? Contact your council? Rep. Sure, that's an option. But calling in the big gun shouldn't always be your first choice. How about looking into the contract yourself? See what it says? That's possibility, but I'll be the first one to admit that the contract language can sometimes be confusing and filled with ambiguity, making them difficult to decipher and understand. So where do you turn? Well, in this episode of Grit Northwest, look into the role and responsibilities of union stewards on the job, why they're so important in keeping a worksite running smoothly. Hi, I'm Joe Cadwell, writer, producer and host of Grit Northwest. Today I talked with council rep and local 70 member paul Galvin. Paul is a steward advocate and trainer. He's going to help us understand what rank and file members take on and they step up to the union steward position. Learn what personality traits make a good steward, and how they develop the skills necessary to become effective jobsite organizers, negotiators, counselors, these makers and guardians of our contracts. I started off our conversation by asking Paul what a union steward does on the job.Paul Galovin:
as stewards a role on the jobsite is to be the eyes and ears of the contract and the representatives and the members on that job site to engage with the contractor in order to ensure that we have the best job site possible for a union garden.Joe Cadwell:
Alright, so they are sort of a liaison between the rank and file employees of a company and the management of a company, they would sort of try to defuse any situations or get ahead of any situations before they escalate, and then necessarily possibly need to bring in a union rep to look into.Paul Galovin:
You know, you probably said that almost better than I would. The The end result is, if we can get ahead of maybe a contract violation if if we get ahead of maybe a payroll issue, or maybe harassment on the job site. A lot of times a steward will see that stuff the day it happens even even sometimes the moment it happens. And they'll have the opportunity to engage with me or engage with the contractor or the members immediately and be able to solve something before it actually is a problem before it costs the contractor money before it costs the carpenter their job. So we want to be able to get ahead of issues at the lowest level possible. And the only way we can do that is if we have somebody on the jobsite, who's also keeping an eye out for those types of issues. That's one part of a steward shop.Joe Cadwell:
So it sounds like there's a heck of a lot of responsibility in being a job site steward. Not all job site. And a job sites have stewards though, and why is that?Paul Galovin:
So identifying who makes a really good steward. This type of work requires a lot of attention, because there are certain protections to the sewer program, that if you were to appoint somebody who was not engaging in their steward role, to help the members and to help the contract and the contractors, then you wind up with somebody who's got a couple of protections of basically job safety. And only for a person that isn't actually engaging in isn't actually helping the members or the contract this, this role could get abused. And so we need engagement from the members. This is somebody who's engaged with their local this is somebody who's engaged with activities and and wants to be able to be a part of something bigger. Not every job site has a carpenter that that a representative has already identified as being that That type of person, once we identify who that person is on a job site, then we try to engage them to be the steward. And not everybody wants to take on the extra added responsibility of being a job site steward, and, and trying to help solve problems in that way.Joe Cadwell:
All right, so we are looking for more than stewards in name only it sounds like, and it sounds like they're you, the union reps will identify these people, when they're looking for people that would make a good steward. In my mind, a good steward would be someone who's obviously a good communicator. And by a good communicator, I mean, not only someone that could just speak well, but is also very patient and is willing to listen, listen to the concerns of the people that they're there to, to help someone that is organized would be a really good skill set for a steward to have someone that has follow through some of that's respected on the job site, and has some a good understanding of the contracts and the ability to be diplomatic, because it is a touchy spot, I would imagine being you know, in between the rank and file and and the management of a company, and it takes some level of diplomacy and confidence in your own self to be an effective steward, IPaul Galovin:
would imagine. You're, you're absolutely correct, Joey, being able to have a middle ground to dealing with members dealing with representatives and contractors, you're in a position where everything you say on the job site is going to be criticized. So being able to communicate effectively, without necessarily injecting your opinion, those types of things are invaluable to, especially to members when they're hearing something that you're saying, Hey, I heard this about the contract in the meeting last night, or the contracts department just released this statement. Being able to communicate that without being the target of their, their frustration is that's what they end up having. And, and then being able to approach a situation like a layoff or an injury on the job site, and still be able to stay cool, calm and collected enough to actually help the situation. Those types of assets on a person, they're hard to quantify until you see it in action. So knowing that you have the right steward comes through experience, after about six months to a year, I can tell you that this steward is going to be awesome. But going out the door and identifying this new store that we're really trying to empower. It takes a little while of them going back and forth with the information to find out how thorough of a steward they're going to be able to be on that job site.Joe Cadwell:
Alright, and you had mentioned some some level of training. So does the Regional Council provide this training? Is this something that's provided by the International? Where does that training come from?Paul Galovin:
In our area, we don't go to the training for the entire Pacific Northwest, we go to training for Western Washington, occasionally Eastern Washington and even Oregon. We tend to train our stewards the same way we just came up with a new steward training, that is a four hour block that includes about two hours of hands on training, to going through the contract and understanding how to withdraw information from there. And the other two hours is, is kind of just a brief. Hey, this is what the carpenters organization is. And this is how you're going to be a part of that. And then once a month, we have a one hour meeting, where we put tidbits of information, continue to engage stewards and having the conversation being a steward is being adaptive to the new environment as it comes every day of the week.Joe Cadwell:
All right. And you had talked about protections as well, Paul, and what are some of the perks? The steward position, as far as I understand is not a paid position. You don't get paid salary for being a steward. YouPaul Galovin:
know, you don't get any paid for being a steward. There's a stipend in North Pacific Washington. There's a stipend that happens. If you met a couple of criterias, which is one you're engaging with your representative and through the month and you're possibly filling out logs with members that are on the job site. You're asking questions and and answering questions and staying up to date with being a steward and then your once a month meeting that one hour meeting. If you been active and you go to that one hour meeting, you are then registered for a $100 stipend in our area.Joe Cadwell:
And that's $100 a week, a month, a year, once a month, once a month. $100 a month stipend. Okay. So there's doesn't seem like there's a huge monetary incentive for someone to step up and become a steward. So what are some of the protections I've often heard that the stewards are usually the last ones to be to be removed from the job as the job winds down. Is thatPaul Galovin:
true? So I'm not going to read verbatim from the contract. But I'll give you some of the bullet points that they come up the most on the job, which is, when you're doing steward activities on the job site, they need to be on the clock, the company is responsible for allowing us to or to conduct their steward activities while working on the job site. So when it comes to dealing with a carpenter there might have a complaint. And then the next step is to talk to the contractor. This is an off the clock work. This is on the clock work, possibly when it's happening, when it can't, when a employee gets injured on the job, that steward might pick up the tools and make sure that the tools get locked away safely, so that they don't get rummaged through while the carpenter who got injured isn't not on the jobsite, it could be possible that the job, the carpenter might not come back to work. And so delivering those tools to the carpenter or a representative also needs to be done on the clock. So one of the protections is any steward responsibility. work needs to be done on the clock. And the employer just needs to allow that time for the steward to do their job. The other part is the job needs to come down to four carpenters before they lay off their steward. rightfully now, there are a couple of ways that the contractor can lay off a steward, but it requires just cause. And it's hard to prove just cause basic concept there is that the employee has a lot of has has a lot of rights under just cause rules in Washington State. And then the other part is the employer needs to give me or the carpenters union 48 hours notice prior to laying off the Stewart that allows the representative an opportunity to go and investigate the reasoning for the layoff.Joe Cadwell:
That sounds reasonable to me. So we have a steward on our job. Now, what are some of the reasons someone would be approaching a steward? We talked about contract violations. We talked about perhaps maybe safety concerns on the job order? What are some of the typical issues that that a steward would feel on a day to day or say a week to week basis.Paul Galovin:
Some of the more reasonable issues that happen are pay issues. Break times, lunch times, and meal times for after 10 hours after 12 hours. These types of issues are usually a little bit muddy from the contract if somebody was just skimming through and tried to come up with a quick answer, and a steward can help alleviate that before there's any back pay or anything like that that needs to happen. The next more common issues on the job site is is is there a break shack? does break shack have a heater? And is there a lunch room? Is the lunch room sanitary? Is there drinking water on the job site. These are some more common things that happen on the jobsite. And the steward can help just identify what the issue is and usually talk to the superintendent or foreman and say hey, this is in the contract, let's get this going. And and it's they can resolve it at their level. And unless there's resistance from management to do those things, in which case, they would either talk to the management or ask a rep to get involved in and Either way, it's probably going to come up because it's in the contract and they need to do it. Some of the more difficult things that the stewards can choose to fully engage on or until they get that experience they might call a representative to come in and help out. And that's, you know, carpenters getting fired or laid off for some of the wrong reasons. Those those wrong reasons vary in so many different ways. But a lot of times it It could be a carpenter that doesn't show up on time and they get fired. And sometimes it's a carpenter that Had a shouting match with their foreman and they get fired. These types of issues come up periodically. And sometimes there's information on either side that makes it right or wrong. And, and it's hard to get to the facts of all of that. And there's two sides these stories. So if this steward doesn't feel confident in those situations, quite often, they'll help identify that. And we can get involved, the day it happens, or the day after it happens, instead of waiting three weeks getting notification that this happened, and and then snapping to the contractor and saying, hey, you're, you need to correct this. And by the way, there's some back wages and included. And so you get an issue that could have been resolved yesterday and an issue that ends up getting resolved three weeks from now that cost the contract quite a bit of money. And and we're not in this for for hurting our contractors, we want the contractors succeed. And we want them to know what right is and and quite often having a good steward on the jobsite will protect our contractors from excessive money.Joe Cadwell:
Yeah, it, it sounds like they're the liaison, again, between the contractors in the rank and file that are trying to, you know, keep things from escalating or getting out of hand and having to call in a union rep. As we know, here in the northwest, we have approximately 28,000 members, we have roughly 90 Council staff and I think out of that 90 Council staff, there's probably 60 or plus representatives, business agents that are out making site visits, that the ratio is really difficult to be to have a union rep on every jobsite every, every you know, every couple days is unrealistic. But having stewards there makes a heck of a lot of sense.Paul Galovin:
Right now our program has has come a long way. And it's got a long way to go. I think we have pretty close to about 6065 stewards assigned. And and we have more that have been trained, so that that arsenal of people that we've identified has gotten bigger, and there's been a lot more involvement.Joe Cadwell:
So Paul, who is the average person that steps up to volunteer to be a steward, I know you talked about identifying workers out on the field that shows some of the characteristics, but who are the people that are actually stepping up on their own saying I want to represent my brothers and sisters in the workplace?Paul Galovin:
Well, I'd say the most courageous of them. The the types of people. You know, I would say that typically, it's a carpenter who's been involved for 10 plus years, that is tired of not taking an active role that speaks up and says, I want to be a part of the change, right? Those are the types of people that speak up. But those typically aren't the same type of people that I find in the field that make really good stewards. So that difference is also very important to the reality. The reality is, most of the people that are asking to be a part of the steward program are currently apprentices or old timers who are tired of seeing injustice.Joe Cadwell:
And being an apprentice coordinator, or one of our regional training centers down in Southwest Washington and Oregon, what are your thoughts on an apprentice who's just getting started off and in the trades, stepping up and volunteering or wanting to be involved at that level,Paul Galovin:
to engage with the contract, engage with the members and great gauge with safety issues on the jobsite and engage with contractors. The focus of us apprentice and the focus of a steward are very conflicting. And as an apprentice there, for years of, of progressive learning, and all things carpentry shouldn't be being a steward and the responsibilities to the contract and the members and the contractor that shouldn't also be on their shoulders. Let's think about their families. Let's think about their, their growth as a carpenter and and make sure that they're able to focus on that. I love being able to train stewards, and a lot of great stewards have come out of the apprenticeship, once they journey out. And when I say they've come out of the apprenticeship is they took the training to be a steward and as as sometimes a first and second year apprentice, and they continue to go to meetings, they continue to go to functions. They continue to be engaged in the membership while they were an apprentice, and then once they journeyed out and they were able to focus on being a journeyman in their family and The carpenters union. Of course, they made a great fit, they still make a great fit as a steward on the jobsite.Joe Cadwell:
I'd have to agree, I think that as someone new to the trades, that they have such a full plate learning their craft learning their place in the industry, that the added burden of now stepping up representing the concerns of the contract, the contractors, and the rank and file might be a bit much, but once they do journey out, they get those leadership skills, they get a little more seniority out in the field, I think there's nothing, nothing better at that point than to take that passion and that understanding of the union and really working to give back to it. And I think that's exactly what students are doing. They're giving back to the organization. So Paul, this has been a fantastic conversation. How can our listeners find out more about joining the steward program if that's something they'd like to do? Go to your local representative. All right, I'll make sure to add that to the show notes. Paul, thank you again for taking the time to be on the show today. I guess this has been Paul Galvin from the northwest carpenters union. If you or someone you know are interested in becoming a job site steward, there's no time like the president to step up. But for more information on how you can take your career to the next level in the show notes. That wraps up this episode of Grit Northwest Till next time, it's Joe Cadwell, reminding you to work safe, work smart and stay union strong