Ken Delaney and John O'Grady, 2021 Winners of the Sefton Williams Award for Contributions to Labour Relations

March 25, 2021 by CIRHR Communications

The 2021 Sefton-Williams Award for Contributions to Labour Relations honours Ken Delaney and John O’Grady, two trade union advocates who "bring substantive issues to the table."

When Ken Delaney was Research Director with the United Steelworkers, he helped broaden the range of issues that the union would engage with when employers were in financial trouble.

In 1991, the steel company Dofasco announced that it would let its subsidiary, Algoma Steel, file for protection from its creditors with a plan that included concessions from creditors—as well as closing parts of the facility, laying off 2,000 workers, and reducing wages by 20%.

As Research Director, Ken was responsible for advising local unions on the legitimacy of employers’ claims of financial difficulty and for advising the union on what steps to take to protect the interests of its members. In the case of Algoma Steel, Ken and a team proposed an alternative plan. The Steelworkers argued that, like the creditors who were required to convert some of their debt into equity, workers should get equity in exchange for their wage concessions. That concept ultimately led to the employee buyout of Algoma Steel.

John O’Grady’s commitment to stronger labour market planning and to a greater role for workers’ organizations in managing the supply of skilled labour dates back to his time at the Ontario Federation of Labour, working on the OFL’s submissions to the Ontario Premier’s Council.

While at the OFL, John became convinced that the Canadian ‘Wagner Act’ model of collective bargaining was “running out of gas.” If new institutional approaches were not developed, the rate of private sector unionization in Canada would follow the American path. He published his thinking in an article entitled “Beyond the Wagner Act – What Then?” which appeared in Getting on Track: Social Democratic Strategies for Ontario (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1992).

Reflecting on their shared award, Ken notes the differences in career paths between himself and John: John did more work with construction unions and more economic analysis while Ken worked for the Steelworkers and managed an investment fund. They have been good friends for over 30 years and are now, respectively, Managing Director and Partner, and Founding Partner, at Prism Economics and Analysis.

Ken’s diverse work history includes serving as the Executive Director of the Canadian Skills and Employment Coalition (CSTEC), holding senior positions with the United Steelworkers, creating and managing a private equity fund, advising the Alberta Government on its approach to support workers and communities impacted by the retirement of coal fired power plants, and providing advisory services to stakeholders in the steel and automotive sectors.

While Assistant to the National Director of the Steelworkers Union, Ken and Rick Smith, then the Executive Director of Environmental Defence, launched Blue Green Canada, an NGO with a mandate to promote policies that address climate change while creating jobs. In 1995, he led the creation of First Ontario Fund, a Labour Sponsored Investment Fund and, in 2011, he helped Charlotte Yates, then-Dean of the Faculty of Social Science at McMaster University, to launch and manage the Automotive Policy Research Centre, a unique research initiative that examines the role of public policy in supporting Canada’s globally competitive automotive industry.

Ken says he feels extremely lucky to have had a series of outstanding career opportunities. He feels lucky to have been hired by the Steelworkers Union, to be appointed Research Director by Leo Gerard, to have the opportunity to launch and manage First Ontario, to go back to the Steelworkers and work for Ken Neumann, and to be asked by McMaster University to help launch the APRC. Ken did not know Larry Sefton, who passed away when Ken was still in school, but he did know Lynn Williams and worked with him for many years—Lynn even claimed a role in facilitating Ken’s marriage.

John began his career as a researcher with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, and went on to become Assistant to the President. He worked as an international representative in Asia for the Canadian Labour Congress and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, working in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Upon returning to Canada, John took up a position as Legislative Director, and then Research Director, at the Ontario Federation of Labour and participated in a number of study tours of Scandinavian labour market policy. He did further work on these issues during an appointment as Visiting Senior Researcher with the Economic Council of Canada.

In 1990, John began his private consulting practice, working with a range of trade unions, providing support in collective bargaining and in policy representations to governments and, in 2000, John and two colleagues established Prism Economics and Analysis.

John has enduring connections to labour education. In addition to teaching labour-management relations at Ryerson University and a labour markets issues course at York University, John established the John O’Grady Graduate Award at the CIRHR.

And of course, both Ken and John’s contributions to the field of labour relations are ongoing.

Ken is currently leading a comprehensive examination of the automotive production workforce, including assembly, parts and other primary suppliers. The analysis includes forecasts of the supply and demand for key occupations in the sector as well examining key labour market issues such as the impact of new technologies, diversity, wage trends, the role of intermediaries in increasing skilled trades apprenticeship, and the role of immigration in supplying workers. The initiative has support from both employers and unions in the sector.

Through his work with Prism Economics, John has continued to work with labour-management organizations, sector councils, trade unions and professional associations. In recent years, in particular, he has worked with a wide range of unions in the construction industry. Much of his work focuses on the protection of bargaining rights, labour market planning and apprenticeship reform.

Congratulations to both Ken Delaney and John O’Grady, the 2021 winners of the Sefton-Williams Award for Contributions to Labour Relations. They will be recognized at the annual Sefton-Williams Memorial Lecture, hosted online on March 29th, 2021.