History of United Way Toronto & York Region

The United Way Toronto and York Region (as it is known today) was established on May 10th 1956, when a resolution was presented and unanimously adopted at a meeting of the Toronto District Trades and Labour Council (now The Toronto and York Region Labour Council). The resolution called for the United Fund Corporation to be established. The resolution came to the floor of the Toronto District Trades Labour Council, as a result of the expressed desires of workers who were regularly petitioned to make financial contributions to appeals made by Welfare Agencies for support. Once The United Community Fund of Greater Toronto came into existence a Board of Trustees was elected to direct the fund.

In order to facilitate an easy way of making regular contributions to The United Community Fund of Greater Toronto, payroll deductions were established. The passage of the following resolutions put forward by the Toronto District Trades and Labour Council on Thursday June 7th 1956 and then by the Toronto and Lakeshore Labour Council at its regular meeting on Monday June 11th 1956 made this process possible:

  1. The Chapter Plan of giving which provides for the voluntary system of payroll deduction, and
  2. We respectfully recommend that affiliates support a fair share plan of fifteen minutes pay per member per week for all Welfare Services through the United Community Fund of Greater Toronto, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT all affiliated unions encourage their membership to support this plan.

Today, payroll deduction is still the most prevalent way that workers make their financial contribution to the United Way.

By 1957, the Toronto District Trades and Labour Council promoted the idea of agency Tours as one of the best ways to showcase how the funds given by workers to Welfare Agencies were being used. The tours gave union members first-hand knowledge of the services rendered to those less fortunate and the agencies’ need for financial support.  A Tour usually consisted of a visit to two or three Agencies and lasted three hours.[ii] United Way now organizes Agency Tours as part of an agency’s application process. The Tours also served as an educational tool for Labour and United Way volunteers. Volunteers on the agency review panels are encouraged to take part in the Tours as an opportunity to get a better understanding and appreciation for the work being done by the agencies they review for funding purposes.

Over the years, Labour Councils and United Ways continued to work on securing funds for Welfare Agencies at the local level. In 1988 a deeper relationship with the United Way and the Trade Union Movement was forged when the Canadian Labour Congress signed a partnership agreement with the United Way Canada. With the signing of this agreement, came a desire for greater participation by union members with established welfare agencies addressing social issues in Canada. The Agreement included:

  • Joint recognition of the importance of the social and public services
  • A commitment from UWC that, in agencies funded by them, paid employees would not be displaced or replaced by volunteers.
  • A commitment by the CLC to provide leadership and encourage members to support the voluntary sector through personal participation and financial contribution to the United Way
  • Recognition by the United Way of the importance of Labour’s contribution to the voluntary sector and endorsement of Labour participation in decision-making and on boards and committees.
  • Joint recognition of the importance of the Labour / United Way relationship

Today, United Ways, in negotiated partnerships with Labour Councils and The Canadian Labour Congress, fund labour programs and staff in more than 42 communities across Canada. The Canadian Labour Congress and local Labour Councils continues to work with United Way Canada to expand Labour programs in communities where these programs do not exist. Labour Community Services in Toronto, with five full-time staff, is the largest in the country.

Labour Community Services in Toronto offers the following programs:
  • Labour Community Advocate Training – This 30-hour certificate program to provides union members with the skills needed to act as referral agents in their workplaces
  • United Way Services – This program provides ongoing support to uphold the partnership between Labour and United Way, by actively recruiting labour activists to serve as part of the United Way Volunteer process.
  • Special Projects – Our many projects link labour networks with community organizations and identify emerging social issues affecting union members and the community at large.

As a commitment to the partnership, Labour representatives support United Way in the following way: they sit on the Board of Trustees; participate in the Funds Allocations process as Panel Members and are active in workplace fundraising campaigns. Through their involvements union activists are not only Labour’s voice in the community but are also champions of social justice issues.

In the true spirit with which The United Community Fund of Greater Toronto was established by Toronto District Trades Labour Council Labour Council, social justice issues affecting workers continues to be addressed through association with Canadian Labour Congress and its collaboration with United Way of Greater Toronto. Through its work with United Way and other Community organizations, Labour Council plays an active role in ensuring that equity and diversity are key considerations in all social justice action.