Workers Health & Safety Centre

Remembering WHSC Founder Clifford Pilkey

Remembering WHSC Founder Clifford Pilkey

July 27, 1922 - November 17, 2012

That unmistakable voice
 — booming and authoritative — speaking out for working people resounds still especially among those connected with the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC). Clifford (Cliff) Pilkey passed away Saturday, November 17, 2012 at Rouge Valley Ajax and Pickering hospital, following a lengthy illness. As founder of the WHSC he is gratefully remembered and revered. 

“Cliff was an unprecedented champion of workplace health and safety whose legacy will be felt for generations. Today, the WHSC is a living tribute to Cliff’s dedication to health and safety issues and his commitment to creating the best conditions for the workers of Ontario,” says Sid Ryan, Ontario Federation of Labour president.

“We owe Cliff much,” agrees Dave Killham, WHSC executive director. “Without his vision and stewardship there would be no Workers Health & Safety Centre. He recognized all those years ago what still holds true today, workers need occupational health and safety training designed and delivered by workers and for workers. More important, Cliff was prepared to use his considerable talents and influence to realize this vision.” 

Cliff served as president of the Ontario Federation of Labour from 1976 until his retirement in 1986. He was president of the WHSC Board from 1985 to 2000 and president emeritus from 2000 to 2009. Prior to his leadership roles at the OFL and WHSC, Cliff served as Local 222 president of the then-United Auto Workers union (UAW), as a UAW National Representative, president of Oshawa & District Labour Council, City of Oshawa Councillor, and New Democratic Party Member of Provincial Parliament for Oshawa. He was a recipient of the Order of Ontario, and most recently the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Cliff conceived of a workers’ training centre, while president of the OFL. With the passage of Bill 70, Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, Cliff understood workers and workplace representatives would require comprehensive training in order to confidently and competently exercise newly won rights and responsibilities as enshrined in the Act. He negotiated with government and even other labour leaders to secure centrally pooled grants in support of an OFL health and safety training project. On the strength of this project’s success, Cliff made the case for sustained funding from the then-Workers’ Compensation Board.  His voice was heard and thus a workers’ training centre was created within the province’s health and safety system. Later known as the WHSC, the organization with Cliff’s stewardship would lead the system on worker training priorities. Among other training issues, the WHSC was out ahead on joint health and safety committee certification, new worker awareness, hazard-based workplace health and safety programs and training related to the prevention of occupational disease, musculoskeletal disorders and workplace violence.
Lives Saved
Gord Wilson, who succeeded Cliff as OFL and WHSC president (as well as WHSC president emeritus) knew Cliff for almost 50 years. “Cliff was proud to belong to a social movement that fought for and achieved our nation’s defining social safety net. Instead of resting on these laurels though, Cliff drew strength from them. He understood the power of what we could achieve together. Worker experiences like those at Elliot Lake’s Denison Mines and Scarborough’s Johns-Manville asbestos plant also showed him there was much work left for the doing. Consequently, throughout his public life no one was more passionate about worker health and safety than Cliff.”
“I for one have been proud to help preserve and build upon the amazing heritage that Cliff has left us,” says Wayne Samuelson, also a former OFL president and now WHSC president. “Cliff understood we needed an autonomous workers’ training centre that put worker priorities and principles first. He has helped save countless worker lives. Supported by WHSC training hundreds of thousands of workers and workplace representatives are creating safer, healthier working environments, one workplace at a time.”
Funeral services for Cliff will be held at the Oshawa Funeral Home, 847 King Street West, Oshawa. Visitation is Thursday, November 22, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. The funeral will be Friday, November 23, 11:00 am. Reception to follow at the CAW 222 Hall, 1425 Phillip Murray Avenue, Oshawa.