Janice Martell knows how to win.
A few days ago, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) announced that it was rescinding its policy of refusing compensation to workers who had been exposed to aluminum dust while doing their jobs.
This change to a 24-year-old policy means a lot. From 1943 to 1980, thousands of miners in Ontario and around the world were forced to breathe in “McIntyre Powder” before starting their shifts. The mining companies said the aluminum powder would prevent silicosis, a deadly lung disease for which workers could receive compensation.
But this attempt at cost-saving came with a price tag. Many miners who breathed in McIntyre Powder developed non-compensable conditions like Parkinson’s disease, dementia, ALS, and other neurological diseases.
Janice Martell’s dad, Jim Hobbs, was one of them.
When the WSIB rejected his claim for compensation after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, his daughter fought back.
A former local president of OPSEU Local 604, Janice took on the WSIB. Working with the United Steelworkers, OPSEU, and hundreds of ex-miners and their families, she built a case that the WSIB could not ignore.
She spent thousands of hours poring over documents in the Ontario Archives. She reached out to miners in grocery stores and parking lots. She created a community. She became its voice. And she won.
With Labour Day not far away, Janice’s victory holds lessons for us all.
It’s a reminder that things don’t get better for working people when we suffer in silence. Change comes when we join together with others. It comes when we raise our voices to speak out against injustice. And it comes when we just don’t quit.
Thank you, Janice, for inspiring us all.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union
P.S. For more on the McIntyre Powder story, see “No comp for the widow” and “Canada: Evidence links aluminum dust to brain damage among miners.”