The BCGEU is saddened by the passing of our former president, John Shields. Shields died today in Victoria at the age of 78.
Shields served seven, two-year terms as BCGEU president between 1984 and 1999.
“It’s a sad day for the BCGEU. John was a great friend to me and so many of us at the BCGEU and within the labour movement nationally,” said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith. “He stayed connected with us even after he retired. We’ll miss John’s wisdom and fellowship tremendously.”
During his time in office, many positive changes took place. He was determined to create a “new BCGEU”, that was modern, growth-oriented and responsive to members’ needs.
Shields chaired the BCGEU’s structural review committee, which began its work in 1987. It brought in many changes, including: more education and skills development for stewards, decentralizing the handling of member grievances and other issues away from BCGEU headquarters, and creating bargaining councils.
Perhaps his most significant achievement was negotiating pay equity for BCGEU members in the B.C. public service in 1990. Other occupational sectors, such as health, colleges, and community social services would follow suit in later years.
Shields also implemented additional efforts to organize new members, especially First Nations workers.
Of being part of the labour movement, Shields once said, “It’s work I love doing. It has given me enormous satisfaction.”
Shields gave working people so much in return. His legacy can be found in every workplace in B.C. —in the improved working conditions, benefits and wages that were achieved during his time leading the BCGEU.
“He was a great man. We’re sad to lose him. We’ll never forget him,” said Smith.