OPSEU Coalition of Racialized Workers

Workers of Colour News and Events

Workers of Colour News and Events


Black Facts: A Celebration of Black History Month 2014

February is Black History Month! The Workers of Colour Caucus will be sharing some interesting facts about Black history in celebration of the month. Keep an eye on this page for new Black Facts which will be posted throughout February 2014.

February 28, 2014

Bromley Armstrong, CM, OOnt, is a labour activist who has worked tirelessly to advance civil rights for African Canadians. He has worked with various organizations, including the National Unity Association and the Joint Labour Committee for Human Rights. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Armstrong was involved in activism to end segregation in places of business, particularly restaurants in Dresden, Ontario that refused to serve Black people. In response to the activism by delegations that included Armstrong, the Fair Employment Practices Act and the Fair Accommodation Practices Act were put in place. Armstrong used those laws to bring charges against the restaurant owners in Dresden, creating a test case that resulted in the law being successfully upheld. Armstrong became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1994. Click here for more information about Bromley Armstrong.

February 27, 2014

Crispus Attucks, a former slave and dockworker, was the first American casualty of the Boston Massacre, a conflict between the American colonies and England in 1770. During a dispute between British soldiers and townfolk on March 5, 1770, Attucks and five other colonists were killed. Attucks was the first to die. This incident inflamed colonists further against the British in the lead up to the American Revolutionary War. Attucks in the 18th century became an icon of the anti-slavery movement. Click here for more information about Crispus Attucks.

February 26, 2014

During the American Revolution (1775-1783), Black Loyalists fought valiantly and received commendations for bravery and conduct. 3,500 of these fighters came to Canada after the war, having been promised land in exchange for fighting for the British. Most of them settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The War of 1812 soon followed, and once again, black slaves were promised freedom and land if they fought for Canada in the war. 2,000 black people came to Canada to fight against the United States, and were instrumental in helping to win the war. Click here for more information about the contribution of Black fighters to the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

February 25, 2014

Lynn Jones is a labour activist who grew up in Truro, Nova Scotia. From the time she was a child, she struggled against racism and segregation. She protested against the Vietnam war in university, and advocated for better access to post-secondary education for Black and Aboriginal students. Jones became a strong labour activist with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and then became the first woman of colour to be elected Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Click here for more information and audio clips of interviews with Lynn Jones.

February 24, 2014

Mathieu Da Costa was a freed slave who worked as a translator, and is said to be the first Black person to visit Canada. Da Costa translated French, Dutch, Portuguese, and First Nations languages. While Da Costa’s time in Europe explains how he learned the European languages, no one knows how he learned First Nations languages. It is speculated that Da Costa may have already spent time in America learning some of the languages, or that he may have used a Basque dialect. There is also evidence that Da Costa was outspoken and independent, which may have gotten him into trouble in France where he was jailed for some reason that may have involved being “insolent”. Click here for more information about Mathieu Da Costa.

February 21, 2014

History was made on July 9, 1893 when the first African-American cardiologist performed the first successful open heart surgery. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was an instructor at Northwestern University and a practicing physician. Dr. Williams joined the Illinois State Board of Health in order to address the fact that Black patients were experiencing racist discrimination. He founded the Provident Hospital and Nursing Training School in 1891, and this South Side Chicago hospital still stands today. Click here for more information about Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.

February 20, 2014

Not too many people know that one of the earliest traffic signals, as well as belt fasteners for sewing machines was invented by a Black man by the name of Garrett Morgan. Morgan had a sewing machine and shoe repair shop, the first of many businesses he would own. He invented a safety hood, which he used to rescue workers who were trapped in a tunnel being dug under Lake Erie, and founded the National Safety Device Company in 1914. He also launched the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company, which sold hair care products. Both companies were quite successful. Garrett was a great inventor and community leader who was a founder of the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, and he received many awards and recognitions for his work. Click here for more information about Garrett Morgan.

February 19, 2014

Benjamin Banneker was the first person to invent the farmer’s almanac in the late 18th century. His education was mostly self-taught. He made astronomical calculations that enabled him to successfully forecast the 1789 solar eclipse. He was also a part of the surveying team that laid out Washington D.C. For his almanacs, he did all the astronomical calculations himself to predict tides and eclipses, and he used his scientific knowledge to provide medical information in them as well. Banneker was an anti-slavery activist who wrote to Thomas Jefferson, chastising him for owning slaves. Click here for more information about Benjamin Banneker.

February 18, 2014

Yvonne Atwell is the first Black woman to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia. Atwell served as President of the African Canadian Caucus, as well as the Black United Front of Nova Scotia, which engaged in community organizing and activism around issues of employment, housing, education, and police brutality against people of colour. Atwell is now the Director of the African-Canadian Employment Clinic in Halifax, and the Vice President of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party. Click here for more information about Yvonne Atwell.

February 14, 2014

Henry T. Sampson is a pioneer in the technology used in cell phones today. He was the first African-American chemical engineering graduate, and then became the first African-American to earn a PhD in nuclear engineering in the U.S. After discovering that many engineering firms would not hire African American engineers, Sampson started working for Aerospace Corp in 1967, and eventually became the Director of the Directorate of Space Test Programs there. He was the senior engineer responsible for launching and space operations for several satellites. Sampson owns a number of patents, and was the inventor of gamma-electric cell, which converts high-energy gamma rays into electricity. Sampson is the author of seven successful books and has earned many awards in his field. Click here for more information about Henry T. Sampson.

February 13, 2014

Mayann Elizabeth Francis was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree and then her Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from New York University in 1984, with a focus on personnel and labour relations issues. When she returned to Canada, she held several prominent positions: the Director of the Ontario Women’s Directorate, the CEO of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, the first woman Ombudsman of Nova Scotia, and Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia. Click here for more information about Mayann Elizabeth Francis.

February 12, 2014

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, PC, CC, OOnt, CD, QC, was a Canadian politician and statesman who served as a Member of Parliament and as the federal Minster of Labour. He later became the first black Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Alexander fought for Canada in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War. In 1968 he became the first Black Member of Parliament in Canada as Progressive Conservative MP for Hamilton West Electoral District. Alexander held that seat for 4 consecutive terms until stepping down in 1980. He was born in Toronto in 1922 and died in Hamilton, Ontario in 2012. Click here for more information about Lincoln MacCauley Alexander.

February 11, 2014

In many books and news articles, it was claimed that Robert Peary was the first person to set foot on the North Pole, but the fact is, it was actually his assistant, Matthew Henson. Henson and Peary were partners in many historical explorations. On April 6, 1909, they reached the North Pole. Peary had to rest three miles from the Pole, which made Henson the first American to reach the North Pole. Click here for more information about Matthew Henson.

February 10, 2014

Dr. Anderson Abbott was born in Toronto. His family was wealthy and owned over 50 properties in Toronto. Dr. Abbott became the first Canadian-born Black licensed doctor in 1861. He used his skills to serve in the American Civil War and then later on as a civilian surgeon in several Washington D.C. hospitals. One of his many experiences was caring for the dying President Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Abbott returned to Toronto and then moved to Chatham where he was appointed coroner for Kent County, while advocating for integrated schools. Click here for more information about Dr. Anderson Abbott.

February 7, 2014

In 1946, Black Nova Scotian Viola Davis Desmond challenged segregation in Canada nine years before Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to sit at the back of the bus in Montgomery Alabama, by sitting in the whites-only ground section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, instead of the balcony reserved for Black people. Desmond was arrested and convicted for tax evasion for not having paid the one cent extra tax that a ground section ticket cost. When she appealed the conviction, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia upheld her conviction. Desmond was posthumously pardoned in 2010 by the Province of Nova Scotia. Click here for more information about Viola Desmond.

February 6, 2014

Dr. Calvin Ruck, C.M, LL.D., was a smart and hardworking man who experienced plenty of nonsense due to ignorance, as did many other people of colour. He overcame that ignorance and nonsense by purchasing a home where many other residents disagreed with Black people residing. Due to the negative experiences he and his family faced, he decided to serve on the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission during the 1980’s. His campaign to have World War I hero Jeremiah Jones recognized was successful, and resulted in a posthumous medal awarded to Jones, and a permanent cairn erected at Pictou, Nova Scotia. He was appointed the Senate in 1998, and became the third African-Canadian Senator. Click here for more information.

February 5, 2014

Frederick Douglass was a civil rights activist and advocate for enslaved Africans in America. He was born Feb 1818 and passed away Feb 1895. He spread the word of freedom, travelled to England where his success allowed him to raise awareness and have his freedom purchased, and then returned to the USA. Once back in America, he started a newspaper called the North Star. Douglass also supported the involvement of former slaves in joining the Union side during the American Civil War. Click here for more information about Frederick Douglass.

February 4, 2014

Mary Ann Shadd was an activist who followed in the footsteps of her parents, who were part of the Underground Railroad. Mary Ann, whose family settled in Windsor, Ontario, had written education booklets outlining the advantages of Canada for settlers willing to work, and the need for living within one’s means. She opened up an integrated school in Windsor for those who could attend. She then moved to St. Catharines, and next Toronto, where she met and married widower Thomas Cary. Later on she created the Provincial Freeman newspaper, becoming the first black woman in North America to publish a newspaper. She then became the only woman to attend the First Convention of Colored Freemen, held outside of the US, and worked as a recruitment agent to support the Union side during the American Civil War. Click here for more information about Mary Ann Shadd.

February 3, 2014

Dr. Charles Drew was an honour student at McGill University Medical School in Montreal. He excelled in academics and sports, and specialized in physiological anatomy. He researched blood plasma and transfusion in New York. His work and discoveries relate to the preservation of blood, and separating the liquid red blood cells from the near solid plasma and freezing the two separately for later usage. Dr. Drew’s system for storing blood plasma is now known as blood banking, and has revolutionized the medical profession. Click here for more information about Dr. Charles Drew.

OPSEU video celebrates Black History Month

February 24, 2014

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, Peter Thompson and Robert Small star in this new OPSEU video about Black History Month


OPSEU celebrates Black History Month with 20-year anniversary legacy banners

February 10, 2014

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Workers of Colour Caucus has unveiled massive legacy banners at their downtown Toronto location in celebration of Black History Month.

The banners are reproductions of artist Robert Small’s well-known poster series including 20th anniversary commemorative posters highlighting the important contributions of five African Canadians: Kenny Robinson, Bromley Armstrong, Yvonne Atwell, Lynn Jones and Chief Devon Clunis. The side of the building features a banner honouring Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr. 

“OPSEU celebrates Black History Month with pride. Our Workers of Colour Caucus does important work all year long in our union and communities across Ontario,” said OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

“Every year we try to increase awareness about Black history,” said OPSEU Workers of Colour Chair, Peter Thompson. “February we celebrate for the month, but the struggle for justice and equality for all Canadians must continue all year long.”

Robert Small created the first poster in 1994 shortly after graduating from college. The illustrator for the Legacy Poster series, Small is now one of the best-known Black artists in Canada. His posters have been included in schools across the country, making them a corner stone of pride and learning about Black history.

2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Legacy Black history poster series. The banners can be seen at 31 Wellesley Street for the month of February.

For more information:
Peter Thompson, Chair,
OPSEU Workers of Colour:

Black History Month events in Windsor, London and Toronto

February 7, 2014

OPSEU’s Workers of Colour Caucus is hosting three Black History Month events in three cities: Windsor, London, and Toronto. Everyone is welcome to join us at these celebrations to honour the legacy of Black Canadians, past and present.

Windsor Event

Date and time: Saturday, February 15, 2014, 12 noon
Location: OPSEU Windsor Regional Office: 3005 Marentette Avenue, Suite 130
RSVP: Elizabeth Ha, elizabethhaha@yahoo.com or 519-919-0852
Speaker: Robert Small, Legacy Enterprises
Lunch will be provided.

Toronto Event

Date and time: Friday, February 21, 2014, 6:00 p.m.
Location: OPSEU Toronto Regional Office, 31 Wellesley Street East
RSVP: Haran Thurairasah, haranthurairasah@rogers.com
Speakers: Robert Small, Legacy Enterprises; Christopher Wilson, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
Dinner will be provided.

London Event

Date and time: Saturday, February 22, 2014, 12 noon
Location: OPSEU London Regional Office, 1092 Dearness Drive
RSVP: Elizabeth Ha, elizabethhaha@yahoo.com or 519-919-0852
Speaker: Robert Small, Legacy Enterprises
Lunch will be provided.

Robert Small of Legacy Enterprises will speak in all three cities. For eighteen years, artist Robert has elevated the possibilities that can be reached as an artist. Robert’s art was part of the first national campaign made to celebrate Black History Month in Canadian history. He has also been on more mainstream and local media than any other African-Canadian artist.

Christopher Wilson will be speaking at the Toronto event. Chris is the first African-Canadian Regional Coordinator hired by the Ontario Region of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, where he has also worked as a union organizer and has overseen the internal Employment Equity Plan. After graduating from Osgoode Law School he worked for OPEIU (now COPE), and SEIU before working for the PSAC. Chris has held many positions in the labour movement, including Visible Minority Representative on the OFL Executive Board, and Member-at-Large on the International Executive Board of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).

Region 5 Workers of Colour Barbeque and Picnic

August 2, 2012 The Region 5 Workers of Colour Caucus invite all members to the first annual Region 5 Barbeque and Family Picnic to be held on August 25 at 11 a.m. at Beaches Park in Toronto. Free food, refreshments, music, and other entertainment will be provided. Don’t miss your chance to meet new members, network and have some fun!

Region 5 Workers of Colour Meeting

Flyer  July 25, 2012 The Workers of Colour Caucus invite members to the Region 5 Workers of Colour meeting. The event will be held at the OPSEU Wellesley Membership Center on July 28, 2012 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Workers of Colour Caucus at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival 2012

The Workers of Colour Caucus invite all members to participate at this year’s Toronto Caribbean Festival to be held on August 4th, 2012. The Toronto Caribbean Carnival Festival is Toronto’s largest celebration of Caribbean Culture.

This year, the Workers of Colour Caucus float will be a part of Louis Saldenah"s presentation of Fantasy in Jewels"

WOCC is once again in the Xpat’s Section, Mozambique Tourmaline. The costume consists of Fuchsia, Lilac/Lavender, with Silver & Bronze accents. Music will be provided by Region 3’s own, Vince Gobind aka "inVINCEable int"l".

The Workers of Colour Caucus will also be participating  in the Kiddies Carnival  on July 21; Vaughan"s CariVaughn on August 11, and  Barrie"s Caribfest  on August 18.

Registration is on a first-come-first serve basis and limited; however, all members must register and pay by June 30, 2012 to participate. For more information and registration, please contact Vince Gobind at 1-416-561-7972 or at invinceable.intl@gmail.com

Appreciation for OPSEU’s success at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival 2011!

The Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC) would also like to express its appreciation to everyone who participated and made the 2011 Toronto Carnival season a successful one!

The WOCC covered three regions in three weeks, Regions 5, 2 and 3.  In 2011, not only was OPSEU represented in Toronto’s Carnival Grand Parade on July 30th, but also, for the first time, OPSEU and the WOCC’s flags flew high at the children’s parade on July 16th as the young masqueraders revelled down Jane street. As well, Hamilton"s Mardi Gras saw OPSEU’s colors for the first time on August 6th, as did Barrie’s Caribfest on August 13th.

We would like to express our gratitude and heartfelt thanks to Winston, Sandra and all of the XPATS people who worked tirelessly to produce such a beautiful costume for the Workers Of Colour Caucus (and of course…their patience). Also we would like to thank and congratulate Louis Saldenah Mas-k Club for a great day on the Lakeshore and for placing second in the “Band of the Year” category last year.

We would also like to thank all the Locals, Committees and Regions for their donations towards the costumes. Especially Local 311, Local 348, Local 106, Local 571, Region 3 and Region 5 for their generous contributions.

WOCC would like to thank OPSEU for the use of the OPSEU truck at the Junior Carnival, Hamilton’s Mardi Gras and Barrie’s Caribfest. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the Equity Unit for its support and to Monty Mohammed, who volunteered to drive the truck at each of these events and for ensuring that OPSEU and the WOCC"s flags were flying high.

Last, but definitely not least, we would like to thank the masqueraders, everyone who was in a costume at the parade this year….THANK YOU. We had four out of seven regions represented at the Toronto Carnival. We would like to send a special thanks to Sara Labelle, EBM from Region 3, Krista Miracle and Rod Bemister, EBMs from Region 5, Sandi Blancher, EBM from Region 1, Edie Strachan, Vice-Chair of the Provincial Women"s Committee and of course Eddy Almeida, EBM from Region 2 and the 1st Vice-President/Treasurer of our great union, for taking the time out of their busy schedule to participate in the parade.

Asian Canadian Heritage Month Celebrations at OPSEU

The OPSEU Workers of Colour invite you to the forum, “Celebrating Asian Activism and Unity” a family-friendly afternoon of performances, food and inspiration being held on May 26th .

The event will include a wide range of speakers including representatives from SEIU, CAW, The World Journal and the Korea Times Daily. Performances include the choreography of Ores Ting, the music of John Chen and a special video presentation. Activities for children include face-painting and a drawing table and much, much more…

Download the Event agenda (Word doc)

Register now for the Aboriginal Workers and Workers of Colour Conference (AWOC)

May 5th is just around the corner – it’s time to register for Labour Council’s tenth annual Aboriginal Workers and Workers of Colour Conference, being held on Saturday May 5th at the OFL Building. This year’s theme is “Austerity for Whom? Advancing Equity in a time of Austerity.” As the layoffs and cutbacks threaten the gains made by workers of colour in many workplaces, there needs to be a concerted response to this artificial crisis. The cost is only $50, which includes lunch. For more information contact afonseca@labourcouncil.ca The registration form can be downloaded at www.labourcouncil.ca


Organizations Express Outrage at Maclean’s Article “Too Asian?”

February 1, 2011 The Workers of Colour Caucus adds support to the many organizations and individuals who are calling for an apology from Maclean’s for its recent article “Too Asian?” The caucus says that the Maclean’s article has had a tremendously negative impact on Asian and other racialized communities and has resulted in tensions and ultra-heightened awareness for these communities.

"The growing gap": the role of race and gender in the Ontario labour market

June 10, 2010 According to a study commissioned by the Center for Policy Alternatives, racialized Ontarians are more likely to live in poverty, to face barriers in Ontario workplaces, even when they get a job, and are more likely to earn less and to live in poverty than the rest of Ontarians. The study looks at 2006 census data to describe the labour market experiences of racialized Ontarians. Among the core findings of the study:

  • Though racialized Ontarians had a higher participation rate in the labour market than non-racialized Ontarians, they faced higher unemployment. That is, despite a willingness to work, the rate of unemployment among racialized Ontarians was strikingly high when compared to their non-racialized cohorts, particularly when gender is accounted for. For example, racialized women had an unemployment rate that was 63% higher than non-racialized women and that was 75% higher than non-racialized men. Of racialized Ontarians that identify as black, the rate of unemployment was 76% as compared to non-racialized Ontarians.
  • Racialized workers were paid 77.5 cents for every dollar that non-racialized workers were paid. Looking at employment earnings by gender complicates the picture even further. Racialized women earn 84.7 cents for every dollar non-racialized women were paid in 2005; and 53.4 cents for every dollar non-racialized men were paid in 2005. The multiple impacts of “race” and gender likely have a disproportionately negative effect on labour market outcomes.
  • Often differences in labour market earnings and employment are attributed to differences in educational attainment, immigration status, or other factors other than “race” and gender. However, even when controlling for such factors, differences between racialized and non-racialized groups did not close. For example, first generation racialized Ontarians aged 25-44 who have a university education earned less than non-racialized immigrants of the same age and educational attainment. Where 1st generation racialized women earned $34,337, 1st generation non-racialized women earned $42, 675 as compared to $77, 732 for 1st generation non-racialized men.
  • Differences in access to employment and in employment incomes are reflected in shockingly higher poverty rates for racialized Ontarians. The statistics indicate that while 6% of non-racialized families live in poverty, nearly three times the share of racialized families, 18.7%, live in poverty.

For the complete report, click here: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/role-race-and-gender-ontarios-growing-gap

Asian-Canadian Labour Alliance celebrates 10th anniversary

June 8, 2010 The Asian-Canadian Labour Alliance (ACLA) is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The event will feature live art, film screenings, music and speakers to commemorate the work of Asian labour activists fighting for racial and economic justice.

Wed. June 9, 6-8 p.m.
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education,
252 Bloor St. W.
Peace Lounge 7th  floor

Download event poster