Shop stewards Rod Vertigen and Junior Plummer share what being a good shop steward means to them.
Each One, Teach One
Before becoming a package driver, Brush Ave. acting steward Rod Vertigen taught grade-school physical education for sixteen years. After the birth of his daughter, Rod came to UPS to build a more stable career with better pay and benefits than the school could provide. But the shift wasn’t easy.
“Coming to work for UPS was life changing. Working for UPS can be grueling,” Rod explained. “At the end of day, a lot of us are here to provide a better future for our families.”
The realities of the job quickly taught Rod the value of “being union.”
“Imagine where we’d be without the union. You see it in this new contract we won—higher pay, more sick days, MLK Day, and more power to make this a livable job for members. None of this comes for free— it’s all because of fighting together as a union.”
What keeps you going as a steward? Rod “wanted to help out a friend” when his steward had to go on comp, and “put the knowledge I’ve been able to learn from my brothers and sisters to good use helping other members.”
“We couldn’t survive in this job without helping one another out.”
Rod still sees himself as a teacher of sorts. “As union members, it’s our responsibility to educate one another. Read the contract and, if you don’t understand something or have an issue, ask questions. Never be afraid of asking ‘the wrong question’.”
“I also encourage members to get involved. Come to meetings, learn and use the resources on the 804 website, get to know your co-workers.”
“The union isn’t something ‘out there’ waiting to help you when you get in trouble. We’re all in this together, all the time. We are the union.”
Being Union=Supporting One Another
When your co-workers are turning to you for help and looking to you for leadership, that’s when it might be time to serve as steward. That’s how Junior Plummer became a steward.
“My co-workers were encouraging me,” Junior says. “They saw that I knew the contract and was competent in dealing with issues.”
Reliability and dependability are also key qualities in being a steward. “I was there everyday,” Junior explains. “Showing up, knowing the rules, and being able to do the job are important.”
Being a steward can be a challenge, but it's also gratifying. “It means a lot when your co-workers take you aside to say ‘thank you’ for helping them out or showing them the ropes.”
“We’re not going to get through to everybody, and we don’t have to. It’s enough that the majority appreciate what we’re trying to do as a union.”
Having a union means that we can rely on and support each other—we don’t have to have all the answers ourselves.
“Be patient and, if you don’t understand something in the contract or know what to do in a situation, seek out support,” Junior advises. “We’ve got to take the time to get to know one another and meet each other where we’re at.”