OPSEU local honours the first black trade unionist to lead a major Canadian union. Upshaw was president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union from 1990 to 1995.
Toronto (4 March 2009) - Fred Upshaw, the first black trade unionist to lead a major Canadian union, says the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States represents a big breakthrough in race relations.
Upshaw was president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) from 1990 to 1995. He was recently presented with an award — during Black History Month celebrations — by members of OPSEU Local 530, who work at the Don Jail in Toronto.
Unable to attend the event personally, Upshaw spoke to the gathering by video link from Ottawa, thanking all local members and their executive, including local president Jeff Dvorak.
Although great strides have been made, the fight against discrimination must go on, especially in institutions where risks can still be high, Upshaw said.
"We must learn to live together, to work together and to watch each other's backs. In this kind of work, if you can't watch each other's backs you are in a lot of trouble. Thank God for a union like OPSEU that gives us that opportunity to work in solidarity together," he said.
"Another reason I'm extremely pleased to receive the award at this time is because I can finally see a big, big, big improvement in race relations, given the fact that Barack Obama is now president of the United States. That means we are well on our way to stamping out discrimination in every which way."
During his term as OPSEU president, Upshaw secured wage increases for public employees and helped win unit reform and human rights language in OPSEU contracts. He also worked to achieve broad-scale pay equity legislation and employment equity policies, and the right to strike and political rights for Crown employees.
Patty Rout , OPSEU's first vice-president and treasurer, accepted the award on Upshaw's behalf. Also in attendance were Region 5 vice-president David Rapaport, and executive board members Nancy Pridham and Ted Montgomery.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 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