In 1975 the Labour Council created a Centre for Labour Studies to provide skills training for union members and activists. The program evolved over a number of years into the Metro Labour Education Centre (MLEC), which opened its doors in the old Massey Ferguson showroom building on King Street West in Toronto, a symbol of Labour Council’s efforts to protect industrial lands and manufacturing jobs. The working-class world view embedded in the Centre’s philosophy of worker education was a critical aspect of its activities. Officially founded in 1987, MLEC incorporated the ground-breaking English in the Workplace program that was initiated in 1978.
With expanded funding, new programs were added: Adult Basic Education helped workers improve reading and writing skills, complementing the English as a second language classes. In factories, hospitals and offices, MLEC-trained labour-activist instructors led dozens of classes annually. The Centre published worker writings, and was the first organization to bring computers to the workplace in its popular Computer Awareness course.
Through its Skills Training program launched on the eve of the Free Trade Agreement’s devastation of manufacturing jobs, MLEC pioneered labour adjustment services for laid-off workers and unions facing plant closures. The Centre’s expertise and advocacy for employed and unemployed workers supported the labour movement’s response to the crisis.
The Equality Program worked to break down barriers in the workplace and in the labour movement faced by immigrant and racialized workers. This included WHMIS training material in various languages, as well as the illustrated guide “It’s Our Union Too”.
In partnership with George Brown College, MLEC learners could achieve a Certificate in Labour Studies. Many of today’s union leaders took labour education courses at MLEC. Graduates from all MLEC programs received a George Brown certificate, awarded at an annual graduation ceremony at the college.
In addition to funded programs, MLEC undertook countless projects in the areas of worker education, literacy, labour adjustment, equity, anti-racism – in partnership with unions and central labour bodies at all levels, and with community, academic and non-profit organization partners.
Government funding cuts and changes starting in the late 90s impacted MLEC strongly. Its workplace basic skills / language program and later its labour adjustment programs directly supporting unions ended. Increasingly, unions developed and offered their own education and training programming and LEC’s labour education shifted to contracted curriculum development. The Centre focused on improving and expanding its funded employment services and literacy programming, including support to residents in the high-need neighbourhoods near its Don Mills-Eglinton offices. Innovative programs in lifelong learning and later anti-globalization and neo-liberalism were highlights in the 2000s.
A significant achievement in the recent past was the central role that LEC played in the formation and growth of the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN). The Labour Education Centre successfully forged a strong coalition of grassroots community groups and trade unions to impact the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit. The TCBN negotiated successfully with Metrolinx to have a community benefits framework embedded in the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, including apprenticeships in the trades and jobs for professional, administrative and technical personnel. The TCBN became a separate organization in 2016.
Current Labour Education Centre Programs
LEC has two programs funded by the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities:
- Employment Services supports people to find work (mainly newcomers).
- The Basic Skills program provides English upgrading, computer training and basic math. Classes are delivered at LEC’s Gervais Drive office, at The Neighbourhood Organization in Thorncliffe Park and at hotels in cooperation with the Hospitality Training Academy.
LEC sponsors construction pre-apprentice training programs at its facility at 25 Klondike Drive.
- TradeLinx funded by the City of Toronto is a construction pre-apprentice program that trains diverse youth and women for the building trades.
- With the Toronto Community Benefits Network, LEC trains 50 people a year from equity-seeking groups as part of the Quick Start to Construction pre-apprentice program. LEC also has partnerships with Dixon Hall, Youth Employment Services and George Brown College, and delivered training in Arabic to Syrian newcomers.
- LEC recently finished a pilot program in Oshawa for unemployed union members to move into the construction industry.
LEC’s Working Green Program tackles the urgent need for global collective action to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
- Just Transition: What EXACTLY is in it for Workers? is a case study of 4 examples where coal power plants closed or are being closed, and the effect on workers. Looking at Ontario, Alberta and Australia, the emphasis is on what services and funding governments and companies provide to workers.
- LEC is pioneering Workplace Emissions Reduction Committees (WERCs) for climate action with joint union/management action that overcomes traditional adversarial relationships and to use that approach to reduce workplace GHG emissions. The first such joint committee is at the Toronto District School Board.
- Green Custodian: LEC is developing a program to train workers who operate heating and cooling systems to enable them to reduce GHG emissions.
There is an age-old saying that “knowledge is power”. The Labour Education Centre continues to help working people from every background know their truth, and discover how to help make this a better world.
 MLEC became the Labour Education Centre after the 1998 amalgamation of Metro into the City of Toronto.