November 28, 1930 – September 29, 2006
Listen to friends and family talk of Roger Ayres and if you didn’t know Roger, you wish you had.
“It didn’t matter who they were or where they worked, Roger was always ready to help people,” recalls Jack Weir, former provincial secretary, United Brewers’ Warehousing Workers’ Provincial Board.
“Some people are talkers and some people are listeners. Roger listened to other people. That’s how he learned,” says Peggy Ayres, Roger’s wife of 58 years.
“He wouldn’t tell you what to do rather he would help you understand what needed to be done. He made you part of the process,” says Paul Magee, former president, United Brewers’ Local 326 and retired national representative, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada. (The United Brewers’ amalgamated with UFCW Canada in 1986.)
“Roger believed in bringing others along. He was my mentor. He taught me you had to stand up and be counted. He was a strong individual,” recalls Dave Killham, executive director, Workers Health & Safety Centre.
After a long fight with cancer and heart disease Roger Ayres, 75, died of a heart attack last fall. Before retiring at 60, Roger served as Chair for the United Brewers’ Provincial Board as well as their educational chair and compensation steward. None of these positions were full-time. His full-time job was driving a truck for the then-Brewers Retail. So what he achieved for workers was often done on his own time. Most remember the incredible efforts he made on behalf of workers injured or made ill as a result of hazardous working conditions.
“He was active in the labour movement his whole working life,” says Magee. “But his forte was workers’ compensation. He had a passion for it.”
“He virtually never lost a case,” adds Killham.
And by all reports Roger handled hundreds of “cases” mostly for United Brewers’ members, but often for others simply in need. Magee had the pleasure of watching Roger plead workers’ compensation claims. “He would tell it like it is, ‘Here are the facts. Here’s the truth.’ He was an honest and straightforward guy. He did his homework. And he came through for you.”
In fact, he even came through for Magee. While on a delivery assignment, a beer bottle exploded and cut Magee’s eye in half. With Roger’s help his workers’ compensation claim was expedited. The award was timely. Magee was in the middle of the costly job of replacing potentially hazardous urea formaldehyde foam insulation throughout his home.
Brian Augerman, a member of the Brewers’ Union, was another who benefited from Roger’s assistance. “He did such a wonderful thing for me,” says Augerman. “Because of Roger I could afford to have children, pay a mortgage and have a normal life.”
Augerman explains in January 1977 he was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident while traveling on employer business. Following the accident he was unconscious 20 days, hospitalized for four months, and treated as an out patient for one year. Augerman had suffered a permanent head injury and damage to his back and legs. Two years later the employer brought Augerman back to work in one of their offices. He didn’t last the week and they fired him. Roger stepped in and secured full compensation benefits for him. Augerman and his wife went on to have three daughters. And although he suffers yet, Augerman takes great satisfaction in his long-standing volunteer work with children afflicted by muscular dystrophy and head injuries.
In addition to critical injuries, Roger dealt with a number of chronic health and safety issues such as diesel emission exposures and musculoskeletal injuries. Killham and Weir describe brewery warehouses filled with blue smoke and destinations where drivers were expected to get several, even hundreds, of beer kegs or cases down steep staircases with no handrails, let alone handling devices.
“Everyone who dies in those places dies of cancer or heart disease,” says Killham. Killham’s father Don, also a brewers’ truck driver for many years, a close friend of Roger’s and fellow union executive member, died of cancer in 1986.
Peggy Ayres adds, while they lived, most in their circle were also “crippled up.” Later in his career Roger himself required modified work to accommodate for back, knee and elbow injuries sustained on the job.
Weir credits Roger’s compensation work, as well as several educational workshops lead by Roger as helping to change things. Ventilation systems, lighter beer kegs, slides to move the kegs and cases and proper gloves to handle them have all been implemented says Weir.
“He was a stickler for health and safety. His focus was totally on the worker,” says Weir.
Peggy Ayres qualifies Weir’s statement. “Roger was also a good parent. He’d drop everything for our kids. He was always interested in what they were doing.” Roger is also survived by their four children — David, John, Heather and Roger Jr.