Former OPSEU President Fred Upshaw dies at 81

"On behalf of our 370,000 members across Canada, we send our condolences to Fred's family and friends, and thank them for sharing Fred with us for so long." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Oshawa (03 March 2017) — On March 1, Fred Upshaw, former President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) died. He had been previously diagnosed with cancer. Upshaw was 81. 

Upshaw was elected to the OPSEU Executive Board in 1980, became the First Vice-President/Treasurer in 1984 and went on to be elected President in 1990. 

He was the first black leader of a labour union in Canada. In 2013, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations in Toronto presented Upshaw with the Bromley L. Armstrong Award. According to the Alliance, the award “was established by the Labour Council in 2005 to celebrate the life and achievements of Bromley Armstrong, a pioneer labour and human rights activist.”

Upshaw led during trying times for the Ontario labour movement

Upshaw led the union during a tumultuous time in Ontario with the newly elected NDP government. Many in the public service still recall the Social Contract and Rae Days — unpaid days off —that were used to combat the recession and higher-than-expected financial crisis left by the outgoing Liberals.

But OPSEU/NUPGE members and labour and community activists will remember Upshaw most as a voice of opposition to the austerity measures being implemented and for his work to minimize the effect on union members. 

Working or retired, Upshaw never let his passion die

Upshaw's whole life was dedicated to fighting for the rights of working people. Fighting for strong contract language that would give workers wages and benefits was as natural as fighting for equality rights that would address human rights abuses.

Upon retirement, Upshaw continued his activism by advocating for the rights of retired workers. He was a member of OPSEU's retiree committee and a founding participant of the National Union Action on Retiree Concerns (NUARC). Through these roles, Upshaw continued speaking passionately about health care, retirement security, income inequality and continued to pressure employers and politicians to treat workers with the respect and dignity they deserve. 

"We will miss Brother Upshaw"

In 2001, during its national cCnvention, NUPGE delegates presented Upshaw with a life membership for his service to union members across Ontario.

"The labour movement has lost a spirited leader with the passing of Fred, " said Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees. "His experience and enthusiasm for helping workers have a better life will be sorely missed, especially in our union. We will miss Brother Upshaw."

"On behalf of our 370,000 members across Canada, we send our condolences to Fred's family and friends and thank them for sharing Fred with us for so long," said Brown. 


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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