WFSE Stewards in Action: Meet Maggie Bear

This is part of a series highlighting WFSE stewards across Washington State.

WFSE’s dedicated volunteer stewards ensure accountability and respect on the job, organize their workplaces, assist with member communication and so much more. Stewards are critical to our success as a union. 

We caught up with WFSE activist and steward Maggie Bear on the challenges and rewards of this role.

What inspired you to become a steward?

A long-time steward who was nearing retirement asked if I was interested in becoming a steward. I knew what an important commitment that is and wondered how the learning process was going to work.

The trainings we have now are so supportive. If I were to whip out my toolbelt, it’s all right there. You don’t have that fear factor. If you take in all the info and learn how to live and breathe it, you can be confident in anything you do as a steward.

I’ve found that I’m good at facilitating information and willing to talk to strangers.

Why is it important for public employees to have a union?

Public employees transform lives. We’re the most valuable resource to people that are in need. I work at the Mount Vernon Community Services Office as Public Benefits Specialist Lead Worker, but my background was in a non-union office that wasn’t a great environment.

Now that I work in a union job with a contract, I want to support and help my coworkers any way I can.  

What’s the union difference? It’s supportive and equal. You always know that you have that support. The tools are right there. I have them right next to me all the time.

What do you do as a steward?

I participate in grievance meetings and classes, have traveled to attend Union-Management Communications Committee (Labor/Management) meetings, and have participated in lunch-and-learns to share information with my coworkers about membership and important union campaigns.

I’m finding new ways to communicate with members using technology. This year has been hard for people. I’m fielding a lot of calls from people who are really struggling. They call me and want to know, “What is the union doing to help us?” I tell them, “You are the union. Now what can we do together?”

It’s really important to me to make our union visible to members. I want them to know they can always go to any steward and get help. I want to make our union more open for everyone.

What is one lesson you have learned? 

To be a good steward, you have to be a true facilitator of information. You have to actively listen and actively support. You have to be that one person who is true to what the contract says and not let emotion get in the way. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m never going to be alone.

Tell us about your experiences with mentorship.

Mentorship means sitting in on the action of the moment, listening to what’s on the table and applying my training. After observing two grievance meetings with mentors, I recently handled a grievance meeting on my own to represent a member.

I have the best mentor. For her to take the time with all she has on her plate and still give me one-on-one attention is a blessing. If I put something out to her, I don’t have to wait days for a response. Immediate assistance and uplift is key. If she’s not available I have others to call, including other council representatives, stewards and the WFSE Member Connection Center. It’s a win-win.

What advice do you have for new stewards or members who are considering becoming a steward? 

Being a steward fulfills me not only as employee but as a person. Being that facilitator and helping others understand the power and support we have as a union is very gratifying.

For me, it’s uplifting as an employee. I find fulfillment and stress relief by extending myself outside of work time with my union siblings, offering support and finding the bigger themes in our work together. 

Don’t be afraid to try it. Be that voice that supports your coworkers and the contract. Be the support you need to be. You have no idea what you can do. Jump on the bandwagon, there’s lots of room!

Together, we speak up for our jobs, families and communities. Interested in becoming a WFSE steward? Contact us at [email protected].