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Several years ago, while serving as grievance officer for the Canadian Union Of Postal Workers Hamilton Local 548, I was approached by a coworker who had just transferred into the Hamilton Mail Processing Plant.

After the initial greeting, he began to complain:

“I don’t like the shop stewards that you’ve got on the work floor,” he grumbled.

I took a moment to consider my response. He had been a former president of one of the Toronto Locals, and it was a fair guess that he had much more experience when it came to the unions, the CUPW Collective Agreement and labour laws. Further, there was an excellent chance that he would be running for local president in our next elections.

I decided to resort to one of my favourite quotes which I often default to when I sense someone being critical towards another:

“Well you know,” I began…..

“Each according to their own gifts.”

And this was very true.

There were many different valuable traits that made a shop steward effective in the workplace: determination, character, honesty, knowledge, communication skills, speaking effectively, compassion, empathy, assertiveness, good listening skills…the list goes on.

I believe that it would be unreasonable to expect someone to have these skills immediately upon becoming a shop steward. Many of these traits come with time and experience. One shop steward may be very good with remembering all the articles in the Collective Agreement, yet does not have good communication skills. The important thing is that they try to build the needed skills as they go along.

Upon hearing me reply the quote…

“Each according to their own gifts,”

this man’s eyes grew wide with surprise.

“You know your Karl Marx,” he exclaimed.

“…. Very good, that’s very good!”

And with that he turned and walked away obviously much impressed by my knowledge of Karl Marx.

That effectively ended the conversation, and I didn’t have to say another word.

Lucky for me…

Had he not walked away, I’m afraid that I would have admitted that it was not Karl Marx that I was quoting…

Still, I let him walk away believing that I had a just quoted his revolutionary hero…

However…. he was wrong.

I was actually quoting Mr. Spock.