Clifford Pilkey, WHSC Founder
From his early years as a trade unionist, Clifford Pilkey was a fearless champion of human rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, social equity and workplace health and safety.
He began as an autoworker in Oshawa rising through the union ranks to become president of Local 222 of the then-United Auto Workers union (UAW). He also served as president of the UAW Canadian Council, a UAW National Representative, president of the Oshawa and District Labour Council and through electoral politics, as a City of Oshawa Councillor and New Democratic Party, Member of Provincial Parliament for Oshawa.
In 1976, Clifford was elected President of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and held this position until he retired in 1986.
In recognition of his contributions as a labour and community leader he was bestowed the Centennial Medal of Canada (1967), the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012) and appointed the Order of Ontario (1990).
As president of the OFL, Clifford helped secure the passage of Bill 70 and the proclamation of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act
. This new law mandated joint health and safety committees (JHSC) and worker health and safety representatives in most Ontario workplaces. Along with these vehicles for worker participation in matters of workplace health and safety the law also provided for the workers’ right to know about important health and safety information and the right to refuse unsafe and unhealthy work.
Clifford understood this to be an important victory for workers, but also knew workers and their representatives would require comprehensive training in order to confidently and competently exercise these new rights. Using his considerable talents, influence and credibility, he convinced the government to fund a central health and safety training project through the OFL. Later, he convinced the then-Workers’ Compensation Board to provide sustained funding that gave rise to the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC).
Clifford served as president of the WHSC Board from 1985 to 2000 and president emeritus from 2000 to 2009. He passed away November, 17, 2012 at the age of 90.