Remembering Chris Schenk

Chris Schenk Student Scholarship Photo of Chris Schenk in front of bookcasesand Memorial Event

The Chris Schenk Memorial Award

The Chris Schenk Memorial Award has been established at the CIRHR at the family’s request in support of a MIRHR student specializing in Labour Relations.

If you would like to donate to the Chris Schenk Memorial Award please email Barbara Track or call 416-978-4197

Memorial Event

On Saturday October 5, 2019, friends and colleagues from the CIRHR and the Ontario Federation of Labour gathered for a memorial event at the University of Toronto.

A video recording of the event is below. If you require an alternative format for accessibility reasons, please contact the Centre.

    A Dedicated Advocate for Workers’ Rights

    Dr. Christopher Robert Schenk, former Director of Research at the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and instructor at the University of Toronto Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources (CIRHR), died in Huntsville, Ontario on July 28th, 2019 at the age of 76. Born in Toronto and raised in Vancouver, Schenk earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, a Master of Arts in Industrial Sociology from Carleton University in Ottawa, and his PhD in Sociology and Industrial Relations from the University of Toronto. He met his wife, Christina Toutounis, in 1978 while she was running for City Counsellor. They married in 1979 and have two sons, David (married to Diana) and Ben (married to Bella), and one granddaughter, Thea, daughter of David and Diana.

    A long-time educator and researcher in the Canadian labour movement, Schenk taught courses at Humber College, Laurentian University, York University, and the University of Toronto, and served as a member of the Premier’s Council on Economic Renewal, a member of the board at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Employment Standards Working Group, and a member of the advisory committees for Toronto Organizing For Fair Employment and the Toronto Area Industrial Relations Association. Schenk worked with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) as a facilitator at OPSEU week-long schools and spent 16 years with the OFL, from 1991 to 2007. As OFL Director of Research, he was responsible for labour market policy, analysis of employment legislation and organizing issues, and for economic policy including analysis of Ontario budgets and trade issues.

    Upon his departure from the OFL, Schenk joined the University of Toronto. At the CIRHR, he taught graduate courses in Contemporary Trade Unionism and in Sociology of Industrial Relations from 2007 to 2015. “Some people find a calling later in life that seems like it was always there, waiting, to be uncovered and revealed for the world to see and experience," CIRHR Director Rafael Gomez reflects. "Teaching Masters students in Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto was, I think, Chris’ calling. There was a true love for the students and the teaching process that Chris brought to every class. And, of course, there was the vast reservoir of knowledge that Chris had gained both in academia and through a life spent in the labour movement, that propelled his lecturing for close to a decade."

    In March 2012, Schenk was recognized by the Centre for his dedication to defending union rights with the Sefton Award for Contributions to Labour Relations (now named the Sefton-Williams Award for Contributions to Labour Relations). The award honours individuals who have made a significant contribution to the field of industrial relations.

    Schenk was a prolific author. In addition to authoring numerous book chapters, he also co-edited three books: with John Anderson, Re-Shaping Work: Union Responses to Technological Change (OFL TARP, 1995) and Re-Shaping Work 2: Labour, the Workplace and Technological Change (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Garamond Press, 1999); with Pradeep Kumar, Union Renewal: Canadian Experiences (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Broadview Press, 2005). He published numerous policy papers and government submissions—for example, "Unions in a Democratic Society: A Response to the Consultation Paper on the Renewal of Labour Legislation in Saskatchewan" (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2012). Schenk's scholarly articles were published in journals including Studies in Political Economy, Relations Industrielles/ Industrial Relations, and Capital and Class. In Schenk’s latest article, published in The Bullet shortly before his passing, he speaks on ‘issues fundamental to public life today that we need to bring to our educational work in the trade union movement and in our community groups.’

    "The Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources will not be the same without Chris’ physical presence," says Gomez. "But his spiritual presence and his memory will live on for many years in the minds of his students, faculty and of course the staff that always had great conversations with Chris. He seemed to always have time for those around him, which is why I suppose, people have been so moved by the news of his passing. This kind of feeling is something reserved for those that have truly touched our lives.”