Meet Kim Stewart: Shop Steward, Jewel-Osco Employee

Our members make the holidays happen. They play an essential role in our community. Whether it be keeping the shelves stocked, helping customers with their holiday orders or guiding people through difficult family gatherings with cannabis recommendations, our work is essential during the holidays.  The Illinois AFL-CIO interviewed Kim Stewart, long-term member at Jewel, and members and asked her experience with working during the holiday season. We are so excited that Kim and the hard work of our members was recognized by the larger labor community. Continue scrolling to read the full interview.

What is your job, union and local?

I am a DriveUp and Go shopper at Jewel-Osco in Melrose Park, IL where I have worked for fifteen years. I have also served on the front end as an assistant manager, checker and on the back end in the produce department and general merchandise. 

What is your role in the union?

I am a proud member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881. At our store, I serve as the shop steward and I also sit on the local’s executive board.

What is it like to work in the grocery industry during the holiday season?

It’s intense, hectic, and enjoyable at the same time! I love interacting with customers and building relationships with regulars. We help the holidays come alive for these individuals and strive to go the extra mile to make sure they have what they need for the perfect holiday meal.

It can also be extremely stressful to work in a grocery store around the holidays. Customers are time crunched and often on a short fuse. The store personnel do their best to handle the high volume of shoppers. However, it requires extra patience, compassion and meeting people where they are at during a time when both our customers and store personnel are under tremendous pressure. 

When situations arise, I do my best to keep my composure and deescalate the situation because I want to focus on serving the customer by helping them meet their holiday shopping needs.

Can you walk me through a typical work-day during the holiday week?

On Monday, I began at 5am after commuting nearly an hour to work. 

The first thing I do is sign in on the computer and make sure all the DriveUp and Go orders have been closed from the prior day. On Monday, the computer system decided to crash and it took us another hour and a half to get it up and running.

While the team was navigating the technology issues, the phone was already ringing with customers calling for refunds and special orders.

Once we got the computers fixed, I was able to go back to my shopping – this involved picking orders for individuals and coordinating with the deli, bakery and other departments to fulfill customer requests. 

Right now, there are more customers in the store than is typical. When I am picking an order, customers will frequently stop me and ask for help. It’s important that we assist them. It’s also pertinent to recognize the invisibility that comes with roles like mine. Customers will often see me working in the aisle, and they fail to realize that I am working for another customer who is behind a computer screen and have a deadline to meet. 

We are also short staffed (and have been since COVID) which adds an extra layer of tension because customers want to be served. Customer service is a significant pillar of the grocery industry, and it is helpful to acknowledge that my colleagues and I are also human beings. We can only be in one place at one time and look forward to serving our customers as soon as we are able to do so.

UFCW talks about how “members make the holidays.” What types of things do you do at work to prepare for the season and make it special for your customers?

It’s important to remember that people are under a lot of pressure this time of year.

We do not always know what is going on in their lives or what meaning the holidays have for them.

I approach this by treating people with respect, developing a human connection with them, and simply trying to bring ease into their day and a smile to their face.  

You mentioned that you enjoy your job. Tell me more about that.

I love starting the day by putting a smile on someone’s face. We live in an age where people are glued to their screens and smart devices.

Human interaction is becoming an anomaly, and I enjoy helping people remember the joy of interacting with one another and building relationships. 

As a customer service professional, it is a pleasure to pick out a great order for my customer. I want to share my tricks of the trade and find them the best product that will allow them to have a great experience with our store.

Are you able to spend the holidays with your family or will you be at work?

I am blessed and do spend the holidays with my family. However, many people working in the grocery industry do not have that privilege.

A lot of workers will finish their shift at 4pm, and they still need to commute home following an exhausting, full day of work during one of the busiest days of the year.

How do you take care of yourself and prepare yourself for the holiday rush?

Self-care is critical! Our labor is physical, mental and emotional.

We are on our feet all day long, lifting heavy products and handling many types of personalities – both with each other as colleagues and our customers. 

Most of us start work very early or work late and have a long commute on top of that.

Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and treating myself to things I enjoy like a massage are critical for my mental and physical well-being.

How has the union impacted your life? What would you like people to know about being a union member?

We have a very good, strong union. I love and am grateful for Local 881.

The union has impacted me in so many positive ways. The local saved my job when Jewel terminated me for taking an extended maternity leave.

Together, we were able to build a case and demonstrate that I followed all the proper protocols. I was later reinstated.

My work in the local has also helped me build relationships and use my voice. I am constantly learning from my fellow union leaders and appreciate the opportunity to show others what the union difference looks like. 

With holidays upon us, take care of yourself. Let us know how we can help you. Should you have any questions, please contact your Union Representative at 847-294-5064 to discuss any concerns you have.