Chris Campbell is the Vice President of Toronto Carpenters’ Union Local 27 and also Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Carpenters’ Reginal Council (CRC). He has been a member of the Carpenters Union for 33 years and a full-time staff representative for 20 years. Today the major focus of his responsibility is to address issues of racism, fight discriminatory hiring practice and promote our trade to women and people in the BIPOC community. He also proactively fosters and engages effective relationships with local community partners around the province. Chris also plays a major role in recruiting youth from his community to pursue careers in the construction trade.
In this interview with Stanley Ugagbe, the Canada-based Chris Campbell who hails from Jamaica harped on how he was able to navigate his way to the top. He shared insight on what led him to focus on “addressing issues of racism, fighting discriminatory hiring practice and promoting our trade to women and people in the BIPOC community”.
NCNC: Thank you for creating time to have this interview with us. Your profile shows that you have had a remarkable career as evident in the local and international accolades that you have won over the years. Where are you originally from? What are some of the childhood experiences that shaped your career path and who you are today?
Chris: I am originally from Kingston, Jamaica. As a teenager I always wanted to be like my uncle Percival Wright who was an electrician working for the local power company or an engineer involved in building huge structures.
I believe in the adage “It takes a village to raise a child” A lot of people along the way shaped or had profound impact on my resolve to preserver and never give up on your dreams.
NCNC: Walk us through your journey as a Carpenter leader and how you were able to navigate your way to where you are today. What did you do differently to get you to where you are today? Would you say you have some special abilities that distinguish you from others?
Chris: My journey in the industry started with me working as a dishwasher, janitor, custodian and a factory hand. A mentor directed me to the carpenters union where I registered as an apprentice. In 1994 I completed my apprenticeship. I continued to work several years as a journeyman Carpenter and supervisor for several years. In 2001, I worked as an instructor at the College of Carpenters & Allied Trades to teach carpentry apprenticeship course for about 2 years.
I applied for the position Business Representative of the Carpenters Union and I did that assignment for 17 years. Two years ago I was offered the assignment of Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at the Carpenters Regional Council and elected VP of Toronto Carpenters Local 27.
I spoke to a well-known Black civil rights union activist in Toronto, Bromley Armstrong. He was at a book signing event at the TYDLC. I wanted to know how he dealt with the struggles in his union back then. His advice was “Chris, learn the rules of the game before playing”. He then encouraged us to be familiar with the union constitution and processes and use it to your advantage to influence progressive changes.
Learning from other people achievements or mistakes where possible is important for me. However, there will be days where you may have to through caution to the wayside and take a chance. Take advantage of every advancements opportunity that comes your way if it makes sense. Be prepared for your blessings when they finally come.
NCNC: Explain a time when you went above the call of duty as a carpenter. How did you help your client?
Chris: There were lots of circumstances, where going above the call of duty was very common. Friends, colleagues and I would volunteer our time after work or weekends to reach out to the urban youths and parents. This was to encourage them to take advantage of the good paying, livable wage construction trade career jobs. These massive infrastructure projects in their backyard cost billions of dollars. I’m referring to projects like hospitals, subway line, condo and office towers, nuclear power plants, and refineries to list a few. Traditional immigrant parents discourage their children from getting in the construction trades. This is primarily due to the stigmas associated to the trades in their original homeland. Most parents are unaware that a unionized construction trade’s journey person makes more income than the average architect or engineer in Ontario, Canada.
NCNC: Tell me about the carpentry project you’re most proud of accomplishing. How did you contribute to its success?
Chris: In reflecting I often brag to my children about working on several buildings, expansion projects, refurbishing projects in Ontario. The project I am most proud of is the volunteer elementary school build, In Wake Field, Trelawny, Jamaica. I saw it as a group of Canadians on a philanthropic project to assist children. It was my big chance to give back to the country I was born. It was sponsored financially by the Carpenters Union local 27 and others in collaboration with Helping Hands Jamaica.
NCNC: Have you ever been a victim of racism? What informed your decision to address issues of racism, fight discriminatory hiring practice and promote our trade to women and people in the BIPOC community? What are some of the notable challenges you have had while doing this? Can you share some of the issues you were able to resolve through activism that brought fulfilment to you?
Chris: Personally, being on the tools back in my days, racism is something I would have ignored. Only a few people would actively engage in discriminating practices, but when it happens you will never forget it. It causes permanent scares. The fear of not being able to pay the bill at home; being Black listed or labeled a trouble maker on future projects would discourage people from having a conversation at the table.
As in every industry, health care, law enforcement, education and others; there will be discriminatory hiring, firing and other related problem. There will always be good and bad folks everywhere. The big issue is resolving the problem in a fair respectful manner, and being proactively fostering a healthy work environment. The union is proudly taking steps to cultivate a sense of belonging for all members from various cultures, race, religion, sexual orientations. I am grateful to be playing a role in assisting as the Director of Equity Diversity and Inclusion.
NCNC: You’re well known for the continued support you have been providing to your alma mater and the community through guest speaking, mentoring and other initiatives. What are some of the challenges you have faced? What is your most rewarding moment so far?
Chris: About 3 decades later after attending George Brown College (GBC) in Toronto they reached out to me. I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the 2022 convocation of the Construction Engineering Technology graduating class. A few months later I was invited to join the GBC Foundation Board of Directors. In February of 2023 my family and I started the Chris Campbell Perseverance Award Scholarship at GBC. This is to assist students attending the college studying construction related programs. This is one of our ways of paying forward the kindness I received from Canada to the next generation of students.
NCNC: Tell us about the Toronto Carpenters’ Union Local 27. What are the requirements to join the union? What are the union’s contact details?
Chris: The Carpenters Union has been in Toronto for 140 years. We represent Carpenters working in the industrial, commercial, institutional, and residential sectors of the construction industry across Canada. We also represent workers in the healthcare industry. The union negotiates decent wages, benefits, pension, and provide fair representation to the membership on site. We are constantly building on the relationships with the local communities.
These are some of the minimum requirement a first-year apprentice may need to get started. Minimum of 16 years of age, a valid social insurance number or work permit issued by the Government of Canada that allows you to work in the construction industry, government issued photo identification showing your date of birth (e.g. Driver’s license or Passport), a minimum of grade 10 transcript of equivalent GED – (General Education Development certificate).
Others are; a mailing address, phone number, email address to receive correspondence from the Union, hiring hall, and Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, you must be capable of performing the duties of a carpenter apprentice and be willing to learn new skills, you must be willing to sign a contract of apprenticeship with the Ontario Provincial Government and you must have access to transportation.
The office is located at 222 Rowntree Dairy Road, Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada, L4L 9T2.
NCNC: What was the Toronto Pride Parade 2023 about? Did it achieve its goals?
The city, province, and country reflect the Carpenters’ Union demography. We proudly promote Equity Diversity Inclusion and Belonging as a philosophy in the media, at our membership meetings, and on the constructions sites. We must walk the talk. Members of the Carpenters’ Union proudly marched in the 2023 Toronto Pride Parade. Leadership matters. It’s important for the Director of EDI to participate in the supporting of my membership, colleagues, family, and friends of the Union. This was the first time ever the Carpenters Union had their own float in the parade marching down Yonge Street in Toronto. Thank you to the Carpenters Union for supporting their LGBTQ members openly.
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