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Union of Operating Engineers Local 793 president Gary O’Neill remembered for compassion

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by Grant Cameron

Gary O’Neill, president of Local 793 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, recently died of cancer. He has worked in the sewer and water industry then went to work for EllisDon, finishing in 1989 as a crane operator at the Skydome, now the Rogers Centre.
Gary O’Neill
Gary O’Neill

Gary O’Neill, president of Local 793 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, was a compassionate and courageous trade unionist, co-workers say, a true labour leader.

“Gary was well respected in the Canadian construction industry by his colleagues in both labour and management,” said Mike Gallagher, business manager of the local and a close friend of O’Neill. “He always put our membership and their families at the forefront.”

O’Neill, married with three children, died Sept. 12 after a courageous fight against cancer.

The 50-year-old had been president of Local 793 for 13 years.

“The executive board, officers, staff and members of Local 793 have heavy hearts in light of Gary’s passing,” said Gallagher.

“We are fortunate to have had Gary as our president.”

O’Neill will be sorely missed, Gallagher said, not only by Local 793 members but by all the building trades. O’Neill joined Local 793 in July 1981.

He followed in the footsteps of his father, Loran, who had been a Toronto business rep with Local 793. His brothers, Kevin and Paul, are also operators with the union.

O’Neill started as an apprentice on tower cranes in the forming industry then moved on to mobile cranes.

He worked as an apprentice for Cooper Crane Rental at Darlington, and later on the rapid transit line and the docks in Oshawa.

He also worked in the sewer and water industry then went to work for EllisDon Construction for four years, finishing in 1989 as a crane operator at the Skydome, now the Rogers Centre.

He was hired as a business rep at Local 793 on Jan. 16, 1989 and worked in Toronto’s downtown.

He was on a number of committees, and served two terms as chair of the Provincial Advisory Committee for hoisting.

In 1996, O’Neill was elected as vice-president of Local 793. He became president of the union in 1998 and was the local’s director of membership services.

O’Neill was also a trustee on Local 793’s Life & Health Benefit Trust Fund, the Pension Trust Fund and the Training Trust Fund.

He also served as chair of the Working Families Coalition and as chair of the board of directors at De Novo Treatment Centre.

He was president and chair of Local 793’s non-profit housing building at 2020 Don Mills Rd. in Toronto and knew many tenants by name.

He joined Working Families when it was first formed in 2002 and chaired the campaign for three consecutive elections. The campaign is credited with ousting the Tories from power in 2003.

O’Neill was committed to De Novo, a joint union/management treatment facility in Sundridge, Ont. that offers help to unionized construction trades who have drug or alcohol problems.

As chair of De Novo, Gary was instrumental in moving the treatment centre forward. He felt people with alcohol or substance abuse problems should be able to get immediate help.

Local 793 business manager Gallagher said O’Neill’s contributions to the union and Ontario’s construction industry will not be forgotten.

“His efforts on behalf of the De Novo Treatment Centre and the Working Families Coalition will have a positive impact on the lives of workers and their families for generations to come.

“At Local 793 we are determined to honour Gary’s shining example and work towards a better tomorrow for our members and their families.”

Grant Cameron is the communication specialist for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793 which is headquartered in Oakville, Ont.

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