Shaun Gibson is a member at Lactalis Canada Inc. in Sudbury, where he took on the role of Union Steward in 2017. But Shaun first gained experience as a Local 175 Steward at Maple Lodge Farms in Brampton starting in 1991. At Maple Lodge, Shaun was involved with a labour dispute but naturally spent most of his time being a steward and helping fellow employees deal with day-to-day problems and conflicts.
Between Maple Lodge and Lactalis, Shaun worked for a non-union company and saw how the needs of the business always came first, and what it was like with no one to fight for the employees. When he moved to Sudbury, Shaun began working at Parmalat Dairy (now Lactalis Canada) and decided to become an advocate once again for his co-workers.
“As a Steward, you will find that you are not alone facing management as is the case in non-unionized companies. You have your Rep that will be able to guide you and be a sounding board for whatever comes up. It may be new to you, but they and Union have seen it all before and can guide you on how to approach each situation.”
“The Union has sent me on many courses helping me become a better Steward and a better voice for the people I work with, which is the reason I became a Steward in the first place.”
As a Negotiating Committee member, Shaun says “it was an excellent opportunity to see the inner workings of how a contract is created. It was an incredible honour and responsibility knowing that what the committee was doing would help shape the day-to-day working lives of the people we work with. We were able to negotiate a very good contract in a very difficult time, gaining rights we didn’t have and improving others, thanks to our Rep and the fact we stood together as a group. No contract is ever perfect, but through diligent hard work by the committee, each contract can be better than its predecessor. If given the opportunity, everyone should try to join a negotiating committee, it is an experience you will not regret or forget.”
Shaun believes the biggest challenge to being a Steward is to stay focused on why you became a Steward: to help your fellow co-workers. “No matter how time consuming it can be, whether it’s taking lots of notes, investigating situations, arguing with management or even when some employees don’t appreciate the work you do; stay focused on the fact that you are helping to make peoples’ working lives better.”
“The Union means there is strength in numbers. When a company realizes it must deal with a Union instead of just an individual, it will often think twice before acting against someone. We should never forget that the life and privileges we enjoy today were won for us by the hard work of our Union brothers and sisters of the past. It is up to us to stand firm, stand fast, and stand united, so we can pass on the benefits that have been won to the next generation of workers. That is why being unionized is important to me.”