Steward Spotlight: Region 8
With more than 60 years of state service between them, Region 8 Co-chief Stewards Teresa Chapman and Jerry Schmit have teamed up to serve their members at the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation and the retirement systems building.
Chapman first got involved in MAPE during the strike when she was “a little peeved” and thought, “If you’re not going to be part of the solution, then shut up, right?” As a single mom of three at the time, going on strike for two weeks was difficult financially, and Chapman found the process of applying for hardship funds frustrating.
“To apply for the hardship fund you had to go through Affinity Bank, open an account and apply for a loan with an interest rate of 9% and I didn’t want to do that,” she said. “I wasn’t happy with how they had done that. It felt like the only way to change something was to be part of it.”
Chapman would go on to be president of her MAPE Local 801 for four years while also serving as chief steward.
“I was thrown into both roles, so I learned a lot by just jumping in and doing it,” she said. “I really like being a steward and I like being a chief steward. I look at it as problem solving and I like solving problems.”
Chapman recalls one story that’s stuck with her through the years: One of her members kept getting investigated, but Chapman could tell something was a little off with her. Chapman worked with HR to figure out the member’s finances and help with paperwork so the member could retire with dignity.
“I have a relationship with labor relations so we can try and get ahead of things and work together to find solutions for members when things are starting to slide,” Chapman said. “I want members to know we have their back, we’re on their side.”
Schmitt said he, too, finds value in having a mutually respectful relationship with human resources as a MAPE chief steward.
“It helps tremendously so when you come walking in as a steward, they know I’m not just walking in making stuff up,” he said. “They know me well and know I’ll come in with facts and truthful information.”
Schmitt transitioned into his MAPE job in 1999 and started as vice president of MAPE Local 802 and soon after became a steward.
“I was always contacted for issues in our retirement systems building, and was the only steward here so I began recruiting and I was able to recruit nine stewards,” Schmitt said. “I started taking them on investigations with me because I’m not going to be here forever, so I have to transfer knowledge to people who will be following in my footsteps.”
While informally leading the stewards in Local 802, Schmitt recently felt the nudge to step up and formally take on the role of co-chief steward with Chapman so they could team up and train Region 8 stewards together.
“We always tell everybody we’re stronger together and we’ll be more powerful when we band together,” he said. “We’ve had a few situations at the workplace in different units and it shows when you have the whole work unit come together, share their stories and fight for something, the results turn out positive.”