Workers Health & Safety Centre

Wayne LaFlamme: Before His Time

Wayne LaFlamme:  Before His Time

December 25, 1947 — September 9, 2003

With voices raised and hands joined family and friends of Wayne LaFlamme concluded a funeral service in Wayne’s memory early last September. Familiar verses to labour’s best-known anthem, Solidarity Forever resounded throughout the Sudbury chapel. There to lead those gathered in song was Julien Dionne, Wayne’s dearest friend of 30 years. All remembered fondly many past Workers Health and Safety Centre and labour events that were similarly concluded, only with Wayne at Dionne’s side.

Wayne LaFlamme died suddenly Tuesday, September 9 at the Lakeridge Health Centre, Oshawa site. Wayne, a member of United Steelworkers of America, Local 6500, was employed at the Workers Centre for 18 years in various capacities, most recently as Director, Training Services, Provincial Regions.

“I had only worked with Wayne a short time, but this I know, he leaves a tremendous void in our organization,” says Dave Killham, Workers Centre executive director.
“Wayne made an invaluable contribution towards the development and delivery of many training programs essential in our pursuit of hazard-free workplaces,” observes Gord Wilson, Workers Centre president. “No matter the task, Wayne always served us well.”
When the Centre determined to open their Sudbury regional office in 1987 Wayne was the logical choice to head up this effort. He helped put the Centre on the map across northern Ontario.
“He was a road warrior,” recalls Dionne, a recently retired Workers Centre training service representative, and member of USWA, Local 6500 as well. “He would drive to Elliot Lake and Sault Ste. Marie and then back again to North Bay all the time spreading the word about the
Workers Centre and its mission. He was instrumental in bringing our sense of community to the north.”
Among other activities, Wayne also played a significant role in Centre training successes like the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, the Musculoskeletal Injuries Prevention Program and Certification training – Part 1 and Part 2.
Prior to joining the Workers Centre Wayne served his local union by chairing the education and political action committees. Further, he was one of the first worker health and safety inspectors at Inco’s Sudbury operations. (Pictured top right, is Wayne in this role — a photo that first graced the Summer 1986 cover of At the Source.)
Highly trained worker inspectors with the power to conduct and/or order their own workplace hygiene monitoring and the unilateral right to shut down unsafe work were first recommended by Dr. James Ham in his landmark investigation into Ontario mining conditions. While many of Ham’s suggestions would make their way into Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, worker inspectors and all the authority they should hold were excluded from the Act. Undaunted the Steelworkers negotiated them into collective agreements. Working conditions improved and lost-time injuries and fatalities dropped dramatically.
In a 1986 interview with At the Source Wayne would observe of his post, “Any gains labour has made, have been earned through our sweat and blood and sometimes death.”
Of course, in his early career Wayne also served the larger labour movement as a Workers Centre-trained instructor, successfully completing his own instructor training in 1980. Two days before his passing Wayne would proudly open the Workers Centre 2003 scholarship instructor training program.
“He understood like few others the importance of our instructors,” says John Arnold a Workers Centre training service representative who worked with Wayne to coordinate this annual instructor training effort. “Wayne knew with every fibre of his being that our unique ‘workers training workers’ approach was the key to our strength.”
Nancy Hutchison, USWA National Office, health and safety representative, couldn’t agree more. She adds though, “He was a giant amongst the Steelworkers. Most important he worked very hard at ensuring activists shared a common bond.
“Wayne wanted the experience of instructor training, in fact any Workers Centre training program, to be so much more than taking a course. At evening socials, with his music and humour, he was determined to make sure everyone felt comfortable and felt connected — with each other and our movement,” says Hutchison.
Dionne recalls that Wayne first picked up a guitar in 1973 when they met. Determined to teach himself, it took Wayne some time to get beyond simple chords says Dionne. By the early 80s though, Wayne and Dionne, joined by Chris Hart, and John Bullen had formed a band and recorded an album. All four were connected with the Canadian Labour Congress’ Labour College of Canada —Wayne, Dionne and Hart were graduates, Bullen was a college professor. Consequently (and with little imagination admits Dionne with a chuckle) they named themselves the Labour College Band. One of their finest moments, says Dionne, was the privilege of playing at the CLC convention in 1985. One of their most poignant moments was playing at the funeral of John Bullen. Here too they finished Bullen’s service with Solidarity Forever.
“It was an unspoken agreement between us, Solidarity Forever was always played at the end of the
event, never before,” says Dionne.
At Wayne’s funeral service Dionne enumerated the many skills Wayne had so ably demonstrated over the years — welding, carpentry, mechanics — he mastered them all. Dionne also remembered though, Wayne’s willingness to assist others in pursuit of skills. “If you asked for help he was always there.” Joked Dionne, “Sometimes he didn’t know when to quit helping you.” For instance, Dionne says Wayne was famous for spending hours enthusiastically reviewing software applications with Workers Centre representatives long after their enthusiasm for the session had ended.
Clarence MacPherson, former executive director of the Workers Centre, also remembers Wayne the man, his friend. “Wayne used to tell me he would cry watching Little House on the Prairie. I believed him. He had a huge capacity to care. Family meant everything to him, but his family included more than blood ties.
“As a young man Wayne knew what it was to struggle,” MacPherson adds. “It taught him the value of a dollar; it also taught him the value of others. I am convinced it was this experience that drew him to the labour movement. Regardless, we will all surely miss him.”
Wayne is survived by his partner Edith, his three children Stephanie, Lisa and David, his son-in-law Eric and his grandson Hunter. 
The Workers Centre, with assistance from many Centre-trained instructors and their unions, has established a scholarship at the Labour College of Canada in Wayne’s name.