Making a lasting impression
Jim Campbell is well rooted in the Windsor community. He grew up near the stamping plant where he now works, where as a kid he watched huge steel coils come and go. He’s never left the area and today he lives just a few short blocks from the plant. “It’s strange to still be in the neighbourhood,” he says. “I never thought I’d end up working at the plant, but now I’ve been here 20 years.”
That’s also why Campbell calls the plant and others like it his ‘nemesis’. For years the term ‘finger factories’ was commonly used to describe the many stamping plants in the area — plants with unguarded machines that claimed the fingers and limbs of many workers. Campbell himself witnessed a co-worker lose an arm to such a press years ago. The memory motivates him still.
Fifteen years later Campbell reports the term ‘finger factory’ no longer applies. While large presses dominate his workplace, many are the size of four full-sized vans, they now employ robots to feed the steel coils and proper machine guards have also been installed.
Despite this Campbell says, “Fewer people may be losing limbs, but you can’t relax for a minute. There’s still plenty of work to be done.”
A Workers Centre-qualified instructor, Campbell is the health and safety chairperson for both his union local, Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 195 and his plant, Central Stampings. His many efforts were acknowledged in 1999 when Campbell received a recognition plaque from the Windsor and District Labour Council for his outstanding contributions to health and safety.
Campbell’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by his union either. In December 1999 he received the Canadian Auto Workers’ first Bud Jimmerfield Award. No doubt Jimmerfield himself would be pleased. The two first worked together in 1985 to investigate the health concerns of their members, many of whom worked in small plastics factories dotting the Windsor area.
Jimmerfield was a member of CAW Local 89, a Workers Centre-qualified instructor, and a longtime health and safety activist. When he contracted esophageal cancer from his on-the-job exposure to metalworking fluids, he used his illness to educate others about occupational disease. Shortly before his death in January, 1998, the CAW created the health and safety award in his name.
Those who know Campbell say helping others is second nature to him. “Jim is a fine, dedicated health and safety activist whose commitment to fellow workers is truly admirable,” says Cathy Walker, CAW national health and safety director. It’s heartening to see Jim get the recognition he deserves.”
Meanwhile, with Jimmerfield in mind, Campbell is trying to coordinate a meeting of workers from local metalworking plants to raise awareness about the hazards of their work. Eventually he plans to deliver the Workers Centre six-hour module on metalworking fluids.
Campbell is also renewing his commitment to occupational health issues and has recently joined the Windsor Cancer Prevention Coalition. Fifteen years after first raising concerns he still worries about the long-term health implications for a new generation of young workers employed in the small plastics factories in his community.
Campbell is just as concerned for their children as he is for his own. “I have three young sons. I should have four,” he says. “Our fourth son was stillborn in 1994. I sometimes wonder if workplace or environmental exposures could have played a role in our loss.”
While he admits his health and safety background might make him a cautious father he’s full of hope for his sons’ future. “In my day people looked at you funny if you stood up and tried to change things,” he says. “I hope my kids will grow up with the sense that they can make a difference. In fact I hope that when they’re adults people will look at them funny if they don’t stand up and try to change things.”