Throughout the month of August, we’ll be learning about one of the key ingredients that makes Guild School special: our faculty! Check out the blog each week for interviews with instructors and inside information about their Fall Term courses.
THE STEWARD’S JOB
Taught by Elissa Cadillic
Main purpose of the class: Develop tools to help members to the best of your ability
Who should take it: Anyone who wants to learn to advocate for themselves, their members, and everyone around them
Course style: Hands-on problem-solving and example-based
How did you come to teach a class at the Guild?
Elissa’s involvement with the Guild started around 2010—her union had gone through layoffs at the library, and she and the other union leadership had worked incredibly hard to save the branches and most of the staff. “Over a 2-year period, I was able to rehire any member who wanted to come back to work, and I’m very proud of that.”
Through that fight, Elissa gained a lot of experience. She and the union leadership were given an award, and so she was asked to present on her experience and began developing lessons to teach. Her work to build a coalition during that fight became the topic of the first class she taught at the Guild. She began teaching the stewards course when the previous instructor, George Embleton, needed someone else to fill in. This is now the fourth time she has taught the class.
How do you describe your teaching style?
“The way I run this class is that I give students all the information, but then we talk about it. We bring in examples from real life. I always say ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.’ The goal is to help members as best you can.”
Elissa has been the president of her local since 2005, and before that was Chief Steward. She brings that 20+ years of experience into her class. “Sometimes the way to win is to file 300 grievances in a day. Sometimes a few choice words and walking out of a meeting are very powerful. You have to try it and see what works, and you learn from experience.”
Because of that, the class itself is an exercise in coalition building. “I always tell people to talk to the people around them. If you have an issue, ask the person sitting next to you. Because there’s not one issue you’re dealing with that no one else in this room is.”
What does the class cover, and how is it structured?
“The class has a big focus on problem-solving, rather than just listening to lectures. I go through things like the grievance process, the discipline process, and more so that people have a lot in their toolbox. I don’t want to just give people paper, I want to give them tools they can actually use. Not a term goes by without someone coming to say, ‘You know that thing we learned about last week? I just did it at work.’”
Elissa closes the class by having each student present like they’re at a Step hearing or an arbitration. “And then I deliver a ruling. Sometimes the union wins and sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s one way to learn what kinds of questions you need to ask.”
What would you tell students who are thinking about taking this class?
“Every union member should be a steward. Maybe not formally, but it is the people who make up the union. Every member, all of us together, we are the union.” For people who are not stewards or in positions of union leadership, this class helps remind and give them a sense of what they might not always see—the work that goes on behind the scenes—which is helpful because members need to be aware of what their board is doing. “As a steward, my job is to represent my members and let them know what is going on.”
“Taking a stewards class is important for everybody, because it translates to everything else. You always have to advocate for yourself, your family, or your kids. This teaches you how to do it. It gives you the confidence to stand up and say ‘I have rights, I deserve respect.’”