The Metro Labour Education Centre (MLEC) opened its doors on Massey Street near King Street West in Toronto in 1988. The Centre was originally intended as a resource for labour unions to deliver labour education, adjustment programs, leadership and activist training and advocacy for workers and disadvantaged populations. The working-class world view embedded in LEC’s philosophy of teaching and training was a critical aspect of the Centre’s work as it started as the Centre for Labour Studies through a partnership with Humber College. This relationship ultimately ended and a new partnership created with George Brown College.
Many well-known Torontonians have worked at or been associated with MLEC. These include, among many others, Winnie Ng, recently appointed distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University, Marcie Ponte, a 2018 YWCA Woman of Distinction, Jorge Garcia-Orgales, the recipient of a Skills for Change New Pioneers Award in 1994, and Jennifer Stephen, now a professor at York University. While she was at MLEC Jennifer was part of a tracking study that led to a change in the delivery of labour adjustment programming in Ontario.
The Centre provided support for union members facing workplace challenges, developed labour education programs, workplace learning and literacy programs, and adjustment programs for displaced workers. “In the 90s it offered the fullest complement of union-based computer and Internet training courses in the country”. In addition, many of today’s union leaders took leadership training courses at the Centre.
The Centre had an arrangement with George Brown College. MLEC delivered a Certificate in Labour Studies that was accredited by the college. Graduates received a George Brown certificate and were invited to attend a college graduation ceremony. When the property on King Street was slated for development, MLEC moved to King and Dufferin and eventually, to its current home at 15 Gervais Drive and became the Labour Education Centre.
As it grew and evolved, the Centre started delivering more employment services and the labour education and labour adjustment programs ended. That was partly as result of the affiliated unions developing and offering their own programming. LEC focused on improving and expanding the employment services as well as the literacy programming. The Labour Market Development Agreement of 2008 between Canada and Ontario provided additional federal funding for employment programs and LEC was able to take advantage of that funding to expand employment services. In addition, LEC was developing an anti-globalization agenda, continuing the focus on workers’ rights.
A significant achievement in the recent past was the founding and central role that LEC played in the formation and growth of the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN). The Labour Education Centre was successful in forging a strong coalition of grassroots community groups and trade unions to work together to impact the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit. With the support of the Atkinson and Metcalf Foundations and the United Way, the TCBN negotiated successfully with Metrolinx and the provincial and municipal governments to have a community benefits framework embedded in the developer’s contract. The benefits include apprenticeships in the trades involved in the construction and jobs for professional, administrative and technical personnel. The TCBN was spun off as a separate organization in 2016.