Dedicated. Insightful. Trusted. Dan Ublansky was all these and much more. Ask anyone who sought his wise counsel on workplace health, safety and compensation issues. Ontario workers lost a valued advocate when Ublansky died unexpectedly on August 8, 2008.
Ublansky was lawyer/director of the Toronto Workers’ Health & Safety Legal Clinic, a post he held since 1993. The Clinic, funded through Legal Aid Ontario, provides legal representation, summary advice and educational programs geared to low income workers and those without union representation.
Linda Vannucci worked side-by-side with Ublansky as the Clinic’s other lawyer. “Three times a week he would spend half an hour in my office discussing cases and working through issues. He was a mentor for me,” says Vannucci. Almost 20 years of prior labour movement experience shaped Ublansky’s worker-based foundation on which he lead the Clinic for 15 years.
After completing a law degree at the University of Toronto Ublansky was hired as legal counsel for the Canadian Chemical Workers Union. Through a union merger he moved with them and became legal counsel and health and safety coordinator for the Energy and Chemical Workers’ Union (ECWU). John More, a retired ECWU national union representative, says Ublansky was never just a lawyer. “Dan was with us knocking on doors and leafleting during organizing drives. He was in our plants interviewing workers for cases. Like all of us, Dan understood workers had a role to play in society.”
Brian Kohler, now a national representative with Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), remembers the excellent health and safety bulletins and educational materials Ublansky used to produce. More importantly though Ublansky was among those in the 1970s and 1980s fighting for and securing fundamental health and safety rights for workers. “Dan was a pioneer in asbestos disease recognition,” says Kohler. “When Ontario’s first Occupational Health and Safety Act
was passed, Dan provided guidance in interpreting what these new rights meant for joint health and safety committees.”
Even a partial list of Ublansky’s involvements reads like a labour movement health and safety primer:
Represented and won compensation claims for asbestos-exposed workers at Johns Manville plant in Scarborough;
Helped create a chemical regulatory framework as a member of the Joint Steering Committee on Hazardous Substances;
Helped shape labour policy as a member of the Ontario Federation of Labour health and safety and workers’ compensation committees and through legal submissions on behalf of the Clinic;
Co-chaired the annual Injured Worker’s Day event at Queen’s Park.
In a high tech age, Ublansky maintained a low tech style — he didn’t own a cell phone. He preferred a land line. Xin Wang is grateful Ublansky was on the other end to take his call. Wang, a recent client of Ublansky’s, was fired from his job at a furniture factory after raising health and safety concerns. Wang had initiated the reprisal complaint himself but decided he needed support. “Many workers are afraid to stand up for their rights, believing they can’t handle these difficult legal issues,” says Wang. “Dan was able get over these legal obstacles.” Wang’s case was settled in his favour.
Wayne Samuelson is president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. “Dan Ublansky was a rare advocate whose expertise covered both health and safety and workers’ compensation. Dan was always a source of sober second thought. He sat and listened to all sides of a debate then weighed in with his always insightful and realistic feedback. In recent years we’ve worked to bring health and safety and injured workers’ advocates together towards common prevention and policy goals. Dan understood this intuitively and helped us bridge that divide.”
WHSC-qualified instructors will also remember Ublansky for informing them about significant health and safety case law at instructor upgrade conferences. WHSC staff will also miss this trusted legal advisor.
At home, Ublansky was solely committed to family says his wife, Jocelyne Poole. “Dan never brought his work home and he was modest about his achievements.” Along with his love for music, Ublansky was an avid sports fan and tennis player. While he possessed a razor sharp wit, Ublansky will be remembered even more fondly for his calming, reassuring presence. Dan Ublansky is also survived by his son Jordan, step-children Shauna, Shawn and Nadine and grand-children, Cameron and Isaak.