Romona Shaffer, industrial painter and union shop steward, at the door of her City of Tacoma paint shop.
A few notable stickers are plastered on the door of Romona Shaffer's City of Tacoma paint shop. You'll find a tribute to veterans, a pro-union slogan, and one with skulls and crossbones that reads, "Caution MO Inside." Romona, who goes by Mo, was gifted the sticker by her mostly male co-workers.
The sticker is revealing of Mo's personality. She's tough, fearless, and doesn't tolerate a lot of flak.
As an industrial painter, Mo works alongside almost exclusively men. But that hasn't stopped her from thriving in her trade for over 30 years. She's also risen in her Union to become a rank-and-file leader, a Shop Steward who squares off with management when the contract is violated and her co-workers need representation.
We spent some time with Mo in her shop, learning about her craft and her passion for Teamsters 117.
What’s it like for you as a woman working in the trades?
I'm the only female painter in the city. We’re lucky because on our negotiations team there are three women Shop Stewards. That’s more than I’m used to seeing. It makes me feel empowered to have them there. It gives me some pride to know that other women are working as Shop Stewards within the City’s hierarchy.
As a Shop Steward, you must have a lot of responsibilities. How do you view your role?
My job is to enforce the contract and educate new members coming into the Teamsters. I teach them the importance of being Union, what the benefits are, the camaraderie, the teamwork, and make sure we look out for one another. I work with Shop Stewards in the other departments. We group together, share knowledge, and try to team-solve together. That’s how we tackle things – as a team.
How do you connect with and educate new members?
I usually hear through the grapevine that we have a new hire. I bring them pamphlets, answer any questions, let them know what the Union does for them, that it’s a valuable thing to be a Teamster, part of a group. I tell them we’ve got a good contract.
How do people usually react?
Some people are coming from a background where they’ve been in a Union before; some haven’t so this is their first time. Most are open to listening, and they’re grateful for the knowledge. Most everyone joins the Union, so I think we’re doing a good job.
You're always supporting your co-workers. But is there a time you remember that really stands out?
We had a case where the division I work for hired an outside contractor to do our bargaining unit work. I caught wind of it, called my Union Rep at the time. We ended up filing a grievance and went through several meetings with our employer. We ironed out an agreement that said they couldn't bring anyone in without offering us the job first. That's worked well for us. We’ve been able to prevent them from hiring outside contractors to do union members’ work.
What's your overall feeling about being a Teamster?
I feel empowered. It gives me extra pride to know that, as a Teamster, I have other people standing behind me even if they’re not in the room.
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