Contra Costa County Steward Margie Valdez

Contra Costa County Chief Steward at Local 21 works as a Supervising Engineering Technician in the Maintenance division for the County’s Department of Public Works. Currently, she manages safety training and other kinds of on-the-job skills training.  She has served L21 as chief steward for over three years now.

Valdez has been active in unions for much of her life. Valdez was motivated to get involved because of a training program she had attended years ago. She came to Local 21 when Contra Costa County was organized in 2009. Since then, Valdez realized that IFPTE was the union for her.

Asked what personality traits make up a great shop steward, Valdez responded that the most desirable attribute is the ability to read people in order to get to the bottom of issues colleagues bring to her.

“As a shop steward, you need to be able to ask the right questions to pick out the facts,” Valdez said. “Sometimes the story gets embellished and it has a lot of sauce. So you really have to filter that out and hear what may or may not be accurate.”

Another piece of advice for up-and-coming stewards she gives is to encourage coworkers to go through the process before escalating a complaint to a grievance procedure, starting with a meeting with the supervisor.

Valdez provides further examples of how the knowledge and experience gained through being a shop stewards can bring a lot to the table come bargaining time.

“Whatever the level of a complaint, a steward’s assistance in the grievance process can  help workers better understand their contract, which can ultimately help in cotract negotiations,” she explained.  “By better understanding the intent of the MOU myself, I can help make sure it is enforced in the way it was intended.”

One thing that particularly surprised Valdez is how employees often undervalue or even discount their union until they personally encounter a problem at the workplace and need to consult their steward. This can become a learning moment for the employee.

“Members are surprised when something happens to them and they find themselves in the position of being accused of something unjustly or not getting a promotion for some reason or any number of things we can help with them,” Valdez elaborated. “They don’t think it can happen to them. When something does happen to you, they come to realize the importance of a union and having a steward at your workplace.”