Long time Alberta union boss dies at 66

An undated photo of Douglas O'Halloran, longtime president of UFCW Local 401. O'Halloran died on Oct. 14, 2019 in Calgary, AB.
An undated photo of Douglas O'Halloran, longtime president of UFCW Local 401. O'Halloran died on Oct. 14, 2019 in Calgary, AB. UFCW Local 401 / provided

The man who led an Alberta labour union through several contentious labour relations incidents for more than three decades has passed away.

Douglas O’Halloran was president of Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

READ MORE: Push to unionize Foodora could be ‘watershed moment’ for Canadian gig economy: employment lawyer

“I think of a larger-than-life, working-class hero,” Thomas Hesse, who took over the presidency when O’Halloran resigned in August, said Tuesday. “An advocate and voice for all working Albertan — that was his life’s work and that’s who he was through and through.”

Hesse worked alongside O’Halloran for 30 years and said, despite challenges, his colleague had a sense of optimism.

“He viewed representing workers as an opportunity, as an opportunity to express yourself and to give freedom of expression to workers and to stand up for people. And it was always an optimistic message no matter how well the battle went or didn’t go.”

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O’Halloran was involved in several high-profile labour disputes in the province, including a strike at Safeway in 1997, and a contentious and violent dispute at Lakeside Packers in Brooks, Alta., in 2005 as he fought to get workers a first contract with then-owner Tyson Foods.

READ MORE: Tempers flare in videotaped fight between union, company

During that dispute he was injured in a crash when he said he was driven off the highway. O’Halloran said at the time he could have been killed.

“When I went out and looked at the scene where they finally ran me off the road, if it had have been 30 feet further, it would have been right into a telephone pole right on my driver’s side,” Halloran said in 2005.

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O’Halloran informed union members on social media in August that he was stepping down due to health reasons, saying he wanted to spend his remaining time with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Former premier Rachel Notley shared her thoughts on Twitter Tuesday, saying that his passing was “a tremendous loss to our province.”

“Doug was hard-working, tough and plain-spoken. He was always alongside workers on the shop floor and the picket line, even when it put him in real personal danger,” the Alberta NDP leader tweeted.

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Douglas O’Halloran died in his sleep Tuesday night from a cancer-related illness, with family by his side.