Winston Uribe considers his work at Swan Industries as much more than a job. In his position as Supervisor, he has found challenging work, meaningful friendships and, perhaps most important to him, a sense of healing. Winston arrived in Canada in what he describes as a “state of turmoil” after harrowing experiences as a prisoner in Chile’s civil war.
During his first years in Grande Prairie, Winston worked in a local steel mill. His wife, Myriam Uribe was a residential worker for the Association during those years and, through her, Winston had the opportunity to meet and become fond of many of the clients who would eventually become his employees.
In 1985, Winston was hired as a Floor Supervisor at the Association’s bottle depot. A transfer to Swan Industries put him in a work environment that he loved and he has been there ever since. Winston has had many opportunities for other work but, for him, the promise of more money does not compare to the peace he finds while working with the handicapped in the woodshop. Although Winston still has nightmares about his time in Chile, he deals with them better than he used to because of the clients.
No matter what problem I have, as soon as I put my foot in the shop, my entire day is changed because of them. That’s why I’m working here.
Winston has developed a very close relationship with clients at Swan Industries. Often they call him at home with concerns or just to talk. When Winston comes back to work from a holiday, the clients let him know that they missed him and are happy to see him back in the shop. He regards those close relationships and the fact that he loves his work as very rewarding.
Clients are very aware that they are there to work and that there is a time and place for socializing in the course of a workday. Winston says the clients work hard during their shifts, and he tries to make the environment fun for them as well. Winston is known to sing and dance from time to time and often tries to teach the clients Latin American dances such as the merengue and salsa. Socializing happens in the break times. “Work is first, but we make sure to have fun at the same time.”
Through the years, the nature of the work is changing. Grande Prairie’s booming economy affects everyone and the woodshop is working very hard to meet the demands. Winston worries about putting too much pressure on the clients and is especially concerned about clients who are aging, or have health problems. Client safety is a constant concern and in the current economic climate, meeting production quotas can be stressful.
Clients are paid for their work in the shop but their wages are not at competitive rates. Clients know that the paycheck they earn is money in their pockets but don’t connect with its real value. Winston says that it’s more important to them to receive an award, or a certificate to acknowledge that they did great work.
In the workshop Winston is very aware that he is a role model. As such, he says he must be very careful about what he does because the clients emulate many of his actions, his mode of dress and even the way he works. He makes sure that, when clients are watching, he tackles jobs that they are able to accomplish as well.
The workshop at Swan Industries employs clients for the most part, but there are some additional employees as well. Two Floor Supervisors work along with Winston and two production workers cover the night shift.
Winston enjoys his work at Swan Industries so much that he literally “waits until Monday” so that he can come to work. He looks forward to seeing the clients and says that working with them is like a therapy. “They help me. They make me a better person. They are innocent.”