Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

November 22, 2012 13:32 ET

Memorial Statement for Cliff Pilkey: 90 Year Old Labour Leader Left a Legacy of Social Equity and Workplace Safety

OSHAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Nov. 22, 2012) - Workers across Ontario are mourning the loss of a monumental figure from Ontario's labour movement, Clifford George (Cliff) Pilkey, who passed away on November 17, 2012, during his 91st year. A life-long trade union activist and former NDP Member of Provincial Parliament for Oshawa, Cliff was best known for his tenure as the third President of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) - from 1976 to 1986. Throughout his career as a trade unionist and politician, Cliff was a courageous champion of women's and human rights whose contributions to workers' rights, social equity and workplace health and safety have left a legacy that will be felt for generations.

"Cliff's contribution to the labour movement was enormous. He was a shrewd negotiator and a tough debater but he was also passionate and thoughtful," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "Cliff Pilkey was a labour leader who was way ahead of his time. He knew injustice when he saw it and he always stood true to his principles. In his time, Cliff faced death threats and hate mail from those who felt threatened by social progress he championed, but he never wavered in his support for women's rights, workers' rights and human rights."

Under Cliff's leadership at the Federation, Ontario workers made many incredible legislative advancements, including equal pay for work of equal value, dues check-off, expedited arbitration and a ban on professional strike-breaking. In several workplaces that were dominated primarily by women, like Radio Shack in Barrie and Fleck in London, Cliff turned strikes into province-wide mobilizations that led to pressure for First Contract arbitration and plant closure protection, both of which were later won through legislation.

During the 1980's, Cliff helped to pull Ontario's labour movement together to make important advances on women's issues. He led province-wide campaigns for pay equity and child care and he staunchly defended a woman's right to choose. Inside the labour movement, Cliff helped to create the OFL's Women's Committee and he made history by creating six affirmative action seats for women on the OFL Executive Board - the first of their kind in North America.

Cliff also responded positively to the challenge from workers of colour to make racial equity a top priority of the labour movement. Under Cliff's leadership, the OFL ran the first comprehensive campaign against racism in the history of Canada's labour movement. Under the banner "Racism Hurts Everyone," the OFL produced billboards, placards and radio and television ads to challenge public prejudices, but it also introduced anti-racism training for labour councils, affiliates and locals.

In 1978, Pilkey helped to win a significant victory with the passage of Bill 70 and the proclamation of Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, which guaranteed the right of workers to know about workplace health and safety hazards and their right to refuse unsafe work. He went on to found the Workers' Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) which he served as its first President. As a result of his work, hundreds of thousands of Ontario workers have been trained as health and safety experts in hazard and disease prevention.

Following a lengthy illness, Cliff Pilkey passed away on Saturday, November 17, 2012 at the Rouge Valley Health System, Ajax-Pickering Site. He was in his 91st year.

WHAT: Funeral Service for Cliff Pilkey
WHEN: Friday, November 23 at 11:00 am
WHERE: Oshawa Funeral Home, 847 King Street West (Chapel)

Reception to follow at the CAW Hall, 1425 Phillip Murray Avenue in Oshawa.

"We are so deeply saddened at this loss of such an incredible fighter for working people. Cliff was an incomparable leader and human being and we shall miss him greatly," said Ryan. "Our deepest condolences go out to Cliff's family and his community. His legacy will live on in our lives, in our struggles and in our work."

For a full biography and memorial tribute to cliff, visit: http://ofl.ca/index.php/cliffpilkey/.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow the OFL on Facebook and Twitter: @OFLabour.

Contact Information

  • Sid Ryan
    OFL President
    416-209-0066 (cell)

    Joel Duff
    OFL Communications Director (Eng/Fre)
    416-707-0349 (cell)