Editor’s Note: Shop stewards continue to act in the best interests of CSEA members by being the face of our union at our work sites. They make it their duty to be available to members with questions about our union and our available resources. They are the true labor champions of this union. This is why the Principal Steward profiles were born.
This month’s profile focuses on Ba’Shawn Spruill, a hospital attendant at Stony Brook University Hospital who has been a shop steward for almost a year. Spruill brings new energy and enthusiasm to his new position. Turns out, Spruill is following in his family tradition of union activism.
Long Island Reporter (LIR): Why did you become a Shop Steward?
Ba’Shawn Spruill (BS): At first, I was just doing it because my brother and my mother were shop stewards, but the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I discovered that I really wanted to learn more about contracts and unions and use that information to help people.
LIR: So, unionism is a family affair?
BS: Yes. Seeing what they were doing as shop stewards made me interested in becoming one. Once I started taking classes and learning more, I became really interested in taking on that role with the understanding of what that responsibility means. I’m still in the midst of learning.
LIR: From what I’ve seen, no one ever stop learning about union activism. Did your mom and brother mentor you?
BS: Yes. The two of them and Debbie (SUNY Stony Brook Local 614 President Debbie Nappi-Gonzalez) mentor me. I basically ask them questions or observe how they handle certain situations and retain that knowledge for future use. I also found that the classes were really helpful.
LIR: How did the classes help you?
BS: The first class I went to was an introduction to becoming a shop steward. I learned that you help a lot more
people than you would expect in this role.
Before I took the class, I thought that the first course of action is to take it to your local president or vice president if you have an issue. Through the classes, I learned that you should first approach your shop steward and then they take your issue to the proper resource. I learned a lot about the structure of CSEA and how the process works. I also started going to the Next Wave meetings.
LIR: What has your experience with Next Wave been like?
BS: I just went to my first meeting in June. It was basically an overview of what the purpose of Next Wave is. In the meetings to come, we’re going to learn more about the history of unions, so we have a foundation for understanding why activism is crucial for the preservation of our union. I just want to keep CSEA strong by helping people who need us.
LIR: What’s the most challenging thing about being a shop steward?
BS: I hate not having answers to members’ questions readily available. Sometimes, I have to take the information and get back to them later.
LIR: What do you want people to know about being a shop steward?
BS: I want them to know that it’s a great thing to do. Even if you don’t go far with it, going to the classes are really beneficial. You get a lot of knowledge of how CSEA works. I’m sure that the more classes I take, the more I’ll be able to piece together how what I’ve learned will apply to real-life issues that arise in the workplace. Helping people is in my nature.
— Wendi Bowie