DaMN Interview: Cheri Stewart
Cheri Stewart is appointed first woman business rep. of IBEW Local 31
By Larry Sillanpa, Editor, Labor World Newspaper, Duluth, MN
Cheri Stewart has always taken her work life seriously. She’s worked ten years for Minnesota Power at their Laskin and Herbert centers, and lately at Thompson Hydro. A programming, computer, and control systems electrician, the 100-year old Thompson facility also required her to be a maintenance electrician and be able to fix things that went wrong. For good measure she also has a two-year degree in welding.
The daughter of a MinnTac United Steelworker, she also learned that being involved in her union is an important part of a worker’s life. She got involved in her union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 31, and now it is her work life.
She started on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday as a business representative for IBEW 31, the first woman to hold that job in the local as far as anyone knows.
Stewart can’t believe her good fortune. She will be taking all the skills she has learned so far, get more education, and have a chance to improve the work lives of her union sisters and brothers.
“I didn’t think the opportunity would arise for me to work in the union office,” Stewart said. “I’m really excited to be here.”
She was a union job steward, served on the negotiating committee, arbitration board, and was elected to IBEW 31’s Executive Board last year. To continue her union education and network with young union members like herself, last year she attended the AFL-CIO’s Next Up Young Workers Summit in Washington DC and a follow up summit in the Twin Cities. In November she attended a national IBEW membership development conference
“I always liked working for the union on my own time, serving on a lot of committees, creating our website, and things like that,” Stewart said. “I’m looking forward to showing Mark and the members he made the right pick for the job.”
Business Manager Mark Glazier had let it be known that the union’s workload was too much for him and Dick Sackett, Assistant Business Mgr. Glazier knew Stewart was the person for the job.
“Cheri has been so conscientious and diligent in her work for our local, I knew by putting her on I’d hear few if any complaints and I haven’t heard any,” Glazier said. “She was a logical choice. Most of the members know her, and she’s well liked throughout Minnesota Power.”
Her co-workers at Thompson Hydro urged their steward to take the union job when it was offered to Stewart.
IBEW 31 has 960 members working under 20 different contracts in northwest Wisconsin and across northern Minnesota. About 15 percent of those members are female.
Glazier said there will be a full sharing of duties between himself, Sackett, and Stewart.
“Cheri will administer contracts, organize, and be involved in political action and education,” Glazier said.
Stewart said the more she learns about unions the more she realizes that union members and the general public need to be told about the benefits of unions in the workplace and in maintaining America’s middle class. Now she’s got the perfect job for doing just that, and her good work and commitment to her union ideals have paid off perfectly.