If you’re lucky, you live in Mary Long’s neighbourhood. Long recently completed training through the City of Hamilton to become a community emergency response volunteer. Motivated in part by this summer’s blackout, Long says the training teaches you to take steps to care for family and home but further equips you to assist neighbours in need. She says matter-of-factly, “I would likely try to help in an emergency anyway but the training takes some of the panic away and helps you act rather than react.”
Long, a member of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is president of Local 216, a composite local representing social service agencies in the Hamilton area. She works with special needs children and their families at a therapeutic pre-school program run by Family Services of Hamilton/Wentworth.
Equipping herself to help during an emergency is a natural extension of her existing activism says Long. Currently worker co-chair of her joint health and safety committee Long says the Local’s toughest issue to date has been tackling workplace violence. The Local won a three-year long human rights grievance filed after ongoing harassment by a former manager and supervisor. The work environment was so poisoned says Long that three co-workers attempted suicide.
Long vividly recalls signing off the grievance’s memorandum of settlement on August 28, 1997. Her husband, Dick, always proud of his wife often referred to her as the ‘cause queen’. Celebrating that night, they danced on their backyard deck before he headed to a local foundry where he worked as a crane operator. At 11:00 p.m. their younger son, Justin, called to say he had witnessed his father fall nine metres to the foundry floor. Dick Long died three days later in hospital at age 49.
Already a committed union activist, since her husband’s death Long and son, Justin, have become certified health and safety committee members and speak out for prevention. In 2002, Long was one of six Safety Ambassadors with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board providing a much-needed human dimension to a media and advertising campaign in which Long and others shared their stories of personal loss.
One thing is certain Long says, “I can’t walk away from a fight. I knew I wouldn’t stand quietly by after my husband was killed. Everyday workers are exposed to hazards on the job whether they’re exposed to violent behaviour or because fall arrest protection isn’t available. Many are afraid to speak out but in the end it’s our silence that will kill,” she says.
Long’s contributions have touched many lives. She has helped her Local develop a human rights policy and program including a train the trainer program that has served as a model within OPSEU. For these efforts the Local was awarded OPSEU’s human rights award this spring. At the same ceremony, Long also received the union’s annual individual health and safety award for outstanding contributions to health and safety. OPSEU President Leah Casselman presented Long with the award and congratulated her for “making a difference in the workplace lives of Ontarians and in the lives of their families as well.”
“Mary’s passion for workplace safety is an example for us all. We are proud to have her as one of our members and we are proud to honour her contribution,” Casselman said.