A former paramedic and health-care aide has risen to the top of the heap at Manitoba's largest union.
Michelle Gawronsky, 53, defeated incumbent Lois Wales in an election over the weekend to take over as president of the 32,000-member Manitoba Government and General Employees Union.
Gawronsky, who was born in The Pas and lives in Vita, had been the union's first vice-president. In an interview Monday, she credited her victory to being in tune with the wishes of the union's rank and file.
"I'm out listening to members," she said. "I was very strong on us being the member-driven union that we are."
In the coming months, she plans to travel throughout the province pressing the flesh.
Gawronsky also wants to make Manitobans more aware of the important role public-service workers play in their daily lives.
Her members include civil servants, Crown corporation employees, university and college employees, health-care support workers and social service agency employees.
"The public itself, I feel, does not sometimes understand what all our members do," she said, citing the contributions of road graders, hospital cleaners and corrections officers.
"We want the (criminals) in jail, but sometimes we kind of forget what our corrections officers are going through," Gawronsky said.
Asked if the union planned to launch an advertising campaign that would showcase these workers' contributions, the new boss said that would be up to the members.
Among the top items on Gawronsky's plate is a battle with two other unions for the right to represent more than 7,000 rural health workers undergoing regional health-care authority amalgamation. Voting is being held throughout the fall.
Gawronsky had been working as an events co-ordinator at a nursing home in Vita. Unlike the president's job, the position of MGEU vice-president is not a full-time union role.
She said she would still be a paramedic if she hadn't injured her back several years ago.
"My heart still starts to pitter-patter every time a siren goes by," she said with a chuckle.