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Mike Yorke reflects on career building the Carpenters’ community and city he loves

Angela Gismondi
Mike Yorke reflects on career building the Carpenters’ community and city he loves
ANGELA GISMONDI — After a 35-year career, Mike Yorke, whose name is synonymous with the Carpenters’ Union, recently celebrated his retirement in Vaughan Ont.

Mike Yorke’s career as a union leader has been as much about building relationships as it has been about building the city.

A retirement party was held recently in Yorke’s honour at Paramount Event Centre in Vaughan, Ont. Over the years, Yorke held the positions of president of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, which is now the Carpenters’ Regional Council, and president of Local 27.

“Although we build the city, we get the pride of putting together the infrastructure in places where people live, the skyline of our cities, it’s really about the individuals – the communication and the relationships that we’ve built that have the biggest impact to me in my life and the lives of many, many other people,” said Yorke to the crowd at the event.

John Cartwright, former president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, said Yorke’s career has been a labour of love.

“Mike always loved the sense of building the city and the politics of building the city,” said Cartwright, pointing out Yorke ran for city councillor and provincially as well. “He saw the concept of how we invest in our city, in its physical and social infrastructure as well, as being part of his life work.”

Yorke has always seen himself as a trade unionist who believes in social justice in equity and inclusion. He was elected as a rep because of those qualities in June of 1989, Cartwright added.

“He developed relationships with contractors, designers, builders, educators, elected officials,” said Cartwright.

“It was because of those relationships that there was a trust built with this union and so many people who are making decisions.”


‘Custodians of the union’

Mark Russo, local union co-ordinator for Local 27, talked about the countless lessons Yorke imparted throughout his tenure.

One instance in particular stood out for him.

“During a time of immense challenge, Mike’s guidance as the president of Local 27 was invaluable,” he said. “His calm demeanour and wise words not only eased the situation but also left a lasting impact on me. I vividly recall him saying, ‘Mark, we’re simply the custodians of the union for the time we are here. We will look after it and make sure we make the best decisions for our members along the way.’

“This ethos to prioritize the collective good over personal agendas resonates deeply with me to this day. Mike’s leadership transcended mere professional responsibilities. It emphasized the importance of relationships and the necessity to take ego out of the equation to achieve the best possible outcomes.”


Tools onsite and behind the lens

Yorke did his apprenticeship at Local 27 and started his career as a carpenter on the tools.

“As well as being a skilled carpenter, the other tool that Mike Yorke liked using was a camera,” said Cartwright. “He liked taking pictures and capturing images of our members at work. He liked telling stories of what our members did and the kind of work and all the diversity of who we are as carpenters and the work we perform. That brought him into the newsletter of the Carpenters’ Union. It was something that was crucial in building a sense of togetherness in our union.”


‘Building a better city and a stronger union’

When asked about some of his biggest accomplishments over the years, Yorke said building the facility in Vaughan was a big part of it.

“I was on the building committee that built this place back in 2002 to 2004,” Yorke noted.

“We knew that we needed a bigger facility, so we said let’s look around for land, which we found here on Rowntree (Dairy Road). In 2002 we purchased and went through a design phase and then we opened in 2004.”

He was also one of the founding board members of the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades.

In terms of achievements, Yorke spoke about the campaigns that he has worked on over the years. Most recently Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, which amended the Labour Relations Act, 1995 to deem municipalities and certain other entities to be non-construction employers.

In June 2019, Toronto City Council made the decision to opt out of Bill 66, deciding to maintain the status quo and uphold its freely negotiated collective agreements with construction unions.

“We went all across the city and met the carpenters where they lived,” Yorke said. “We rented hotel meeting rooms and banquet halls and other facilities and engaged members in direct communication with the political leadership. Then we took that credibility back to city hall and said, ‘Mr. Mayor, city councillors, you’ve got to defend our collective agreement at the city level.’”

Yorke will remain on various boards and committees.

He has always been focused on training the next generation of carpenters and he said it’s in good hands.

“I really believe that the organization and the city and beyond is in excellent hands. I look forward to all of the successes of the next generation in building a better city and a stronger union,” he said.

Follow the author on X/Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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