By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
It was in August that former Oshawa union boss Chris Buckley made the decision that he needed to take his experience to the provincial level as head of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
Most importantly, Buckley says he would bring his experience to help unions across Ontario fight as one.
“This was about uniting our labour movement at the OFL,” Buckley, who was acclaimed as the head of the federation earlier this month, tells The Oshawa Express. “It’s no secret for a long long time that there’s been a number of differences with a number of unions at the OFL. This was my intent to salvage the Ontario Federation of Labour. The federation has been around for 58 years, plays an important role for workers across the province. The current model was not going to survive, so this was my way to ensure that we move the federation forward.”
As Buckley noted, the federation has faced financial difficulties in recent years, with three large unions – the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union – refusing to pay dues while Sid Ryan, the federation’s previous president, was in power. The three unions cited unhappiness with how the federation was spending money under Ryan.
Ryan, who initially said he would be running for re-election, announced in September that he would be stepping aside, leaving Buckley as the lone candidate.
“Let’s make no mistake. There’s a lot of work to do in regards to getting the Ontario federation back on solid financial ground, encouraging affiliates to come back that had left totally over the past few years for a number of different reasons,” Buckley says. “I’ve had some encouraging conversations with some larger affiliates that will be coming back to the federation once we get things back on solid ground.”
Closer to home, Buckley says Oshawa has faced tough times over the past few years, with the auto sector slowing down due to the worldwide economic climate, with sacrifices being made to keep the Oshawa Assembly running. However, moving forward, Buckley says his federation will be working to ensure the plant stays open, and that begins with making sure all levels of government do their fair share.
“We had a number of challenges, and we made a number of tough decisions in order to keep our plants open and our members at work. But now, it’s time for government to play a role as well. A number of countries that have a thriving auto industry and a thriving manufacturing sector, they have a plan. They have an industrial strategy. I’m going to be pressing our government to finally come to the table with an industrial strategy,” Buckley says. “This province was built on good paying manufacturing jobs, good paying jobs in general.”
With union negotiations set to begin next year between Unifor and General Motors, Buckley says he’ll play whatever role he can to make sure jobs stay in Oshawa and in other automotive sectors across the province.
“I will play whatever role I can to support workers in the auto industry. The auto industry is my home. That’s where I grew up, that’s where I spent my entire career.”
Prior to moving to Unifor’s head offices, Buckley was the president of Unifor – formerly Canadian Auto Workers – Local 222, the union that represents workers at Oshawa Assembly between 2004 and 2013, and was also the chair of the GM Master Bargaining Committee for four rounds of contract talks. Buckley is also notable for leading a 12-day blockade of General Motors’ Canadian head offices in 2008 after it was announced Oshawa’s truck plant, along with three other production facilities would be shut down, putting 2,600 workers out of a job.
This wasn’t Buckley’s first time running for office, having run as the NDP candidate in the 2011 federal election in Oshawa against current MP Colin Carrie. Buckley came approximately 7,000 votes shy of defeating Carrie’s reelection bid, but was well ahead of third-place James Morton of the Liberals.