What I learned this summer at USW

This summer at United Steelworkers Local 6166 I learned a variety of things from how to properly use a photocopier, to how much unions benefit the workers they represent. Walking into the union hall for the first time this summer, I wasn't sure what was in store for me other than utilizing and enhancing simple skills such as photocopying, organizing, cleaning, so mundane everyday tasks. But coming out of the hall for the last time this summer I left with a clearer and greater appreciation for the hard work union workers do for the men and women they represent. The people I met this summer such as Gord Medwid the Vice President of Local 6166 was one of the big influencers in the stories I heard this summer. Personally, he showed me understanding of past battles unions have fought such as the infamous Westray accident that left many families torn apart; he also taught the other students as well as myself the importance of these battles and what they did for the working person with the well-deserved passion he included in each story. The rest of the union workers also taught the other students and the importance of many things in regards to unions, such as knowing our four rights for our safety, something because of how many times we were asked to recite them, will never be forgotten no matter how many times we try.

By the end of the summer I had a broadened perspective of the world, and made me realize that learning these things, will indefinitely help me something I hope every student who worked there has walked away with. As a student, we don't realize the work unions really do as a representative for their workers, sitting in on safety meetings, and the presidential meetings that happen weekly gave us a look into that work, we heard the struggles they felt dealing with the constant ever-presence of keeping their workers safe. At the end of the day we realized that their work does not go unnoticed by the workers because of the effect it may have, such as helping a worker avoiding accidents by doing their routine checks on equipment and helping them deal with the problems that may arise or assuring them that there isn't any to be dealt with, to helping them deal with the problems they feel are challenging to them personally.

The people I encountered working at the hall made the experience as a whole, much better, as much as I valued my sleep and getting up at 6 am every morning felt like a chore, the other students and the workers there as well, made the days go by much faster than I expected. Although Helping out with holidays such as “King Minor day” I was only bagging hotdogs to be given away for the families/workers/students that came by to enjoy the day, I left with the knowledge of why King Minor Day exists. It may only be a single day given to the workers, but it was still a privilege the union gave their workers well deserved time off to enjoy the things the Union Hall provides on that day, or to enjoy just being at home with their family.

Even through working in the Union Hall, I was given a look into some political aspects as well. The students were given the opportunity to meet with Wab Kinew, someone running for representative of the NDP party in Manitoba. This was an important opportunity as most of us are fresh out of high school, just turned 18 and we can now have a direct effect on; Mr. Kinew outlined what he viewed as important, such as our health care system, but he also asked us what we thought and was open to hearing the questions we had for him, something I've never personally experienced. Most people in today’s society believe that withholding their vote does not matter and will not have any effect on who goes into office but that is not the case as we are the new generation of voters, and our say matters too which was demonstrated in that meeting. Mr. Kinew taking the time out of his day to meet with the union workers, and the students as well gave me a perspective as a young person that my vote can directly affect the things happening in society around me.

Working at the hall this summer will be something I walked out of with more confidence in the work I can do, as well as a bigger, and more fuller understanding of what it truly means to be involved in these battles union workers, and working people are having every day or have already fought and won. The people I met this summer made the experience all the more better and is definitely something I hope to do again in my life. I was sad to leave such a fun and interesting summer job, but happy to be given the opportunity to experience the things I did over the course of it, I will carry the information and experiences I had with me for a long time and thank everyone who gave me these opportunities. I hope through this, I gave a little bit of an insight in the great experience, and I hope every student leaving this program had as well. A big thank you to those who gave me the chance, and a good luck to the students who will leave feeling the same way I did next summer.