Workers Health & Safety Centre

Fred Upshaw, Social Justice Champion

Standing up for what he thought was right and just came naturally to Fred Upshaw. As president of the student council at Toronto’s Malvern Collegiate High School, Fred led a walkout seeking student consultation over changes to the school uniform. The seeds of activism were planted.   


A registered nurse, Fred became a member of Local 331 of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union, (OPSEU) when he began work at the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital. An activist from the start, he rose through the union ranks as a steward and eventually local president. In 1980 he was elected to the OPSEU Executive Board becoming First Vice-President/Treasurer in 1984. In 1990, Fred was elected OPSEU president, becoming the first African-Canadian to lead a major labour union in Canada. He also served on the executive board of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
Under his watch as president, OPSEU implemented a significant social justice agenda adopting an employment equity policy, became one of the first unions to hire a human rights officer and establish a Provincial Human Rights Committee, with a mandate to promote human rights throughout the union. 

In retirement he continued to serve workers as head of OPSEU’s Retired Members Division for Region 3.

In recognition for his tireless advocacy on behalf of working people and social justice for all, Fred received the Bromley L. Armstrong Award in 2013. The award was first established by the Toronto & York Region Labour Council to honour this great Canadian civil rights leader.

Health and safety champion too

As OPSEU president, Fred strongly also defended newly won Bill 208 amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act which provided new worker rights and critical mandatory training standards for joint health and safety committees.
A long-time supporter of the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC), Fred joined the Board of Directors for the WHSC in 1992, eventually participating on the finance and executive committees. He served until his passing on March 1, 2017 at the age of 81.