Editor’s Note: Those who choose to take on the position of shop steward dedicate much time to helping other members. From disseminating information to acting as a mediator between management and colleagues, shop stewards are always at the center of union activities.
Having a shop steward like Edvin Quijano around to be the voice of reason and compassion is beneficial to everyone at the work site.
Quijano, a cleaner at John Weber Middle School in Port Washington, has been a shop steward for 10 years and brings patience and expertise to the position.
Long Island Reporter (LIR): Why did you become a shop steward?
Edvin Quijano (EQ): I really wanted to help people, especially those who don’t understand the language. I’m bilingual so it’s easy for me to teach our Spanish-speaking members the union by-laws in their native language.
LIR: What kind of challenges do you have when teaching members about the union policies?
EQ: We have a lot of members who just go along with what management tells them because they’re scared of what will happen if they start questioning things. I teach them that they have rights and that there are certain things they are entitled to as members of CSEA. If you feel that you’re being abused by management, you have the right to say something because there are laws to protect you.
LIR: What’s the most rewarding thing about what you do?
EQ: I like knowing that I’ve helped people understand their rights as union members.
LIR: What’s the most challenging thing about being a shop steward?
EQ: When people think that just because I’m young, I don’t have the knowledge to educate them. It’s hard to make them understand that I’ve been trained for my position. I went to workshops to learn how to be a good shop steward.
LIR: How do you overcome that obstacle with them?
EQ: I show them what I know. I’ll ask them if they know the answer to questions concerning our contracts and by-laws. They usually don’t know the answer. When I’m able to educate them they become more receptive to me.
LIR: What do you think your best quality as a shop steward is?
EQ: I’m able to stay neutral. I had a situation with a worker where he was being discriminated against. I showed him the role he played in the situation he was in. If you don’t learn and then follow the proper protocol, you can’t expect for things to work out the way you want them to. Sometimes as union workers we’re our own worst enemies.
I then explained to the supervisor that he had to speak to his employees with respect. If you want or need someone to do something, say please. The confrontations start when employees don’t feel respected by management.
LIR: What was the shop steward training like?
EQ: It was helpful because you get to understand the laws, so then I can go back to tell other people what I learned. They also teach you how to mediate, how to handle confrontations and how to work with management. There’s always a new class with something new to learn.
LIR: What advice would you give to someone looking to become a shop steward?
EQ: Be patient. You need to hear all sides of the story before you make any judgment. Never just go by one person’s point of view. You don’t take sides, either. You just be the mediator, even when members confront you.
LIR: What do you do when people confront you?
EQ: I’m a real peaceful guy. I just explain to them that they’re not going to resolve anything by yelling. All yelling is going to do is agitate everyone. Then, what’s the result? Someone is going to get fired and it’s not going to be me. It’ll be the two people yelling at each other at the work site. I consider myself the peacekeeper in my building.
LIR: Do you have any mentors?
EQ: (Port Washington School District Unit President) Ritchie Acevedo. He has been with me since the beginning, guiding me along the way. He saw that I was organizing group activities like paintball tournaments so that our unit members could get together and have fun. He felt like I was a natural organizer and suggested that I get involved.