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Adventurous • Courageous • Caring

Her Story

Marion Burton

Retired President of The Peterborough and District Labour Council, Former Councillor of Otonabee South Monaghan

Marion's Story :

They say the first few years of a child’s life shape and determine what type of person you will become. My father who was always there with kindness and unconditional love – no matter what trouble I had managed to get myself into – played a key role in developing my values and sense of caring.  But it is also my grandmother, Laura, whom I want to tell you about.

My childhood story goes like this – my parents were young dairy farmers having bought the farm from my grandparents who then moved to the farm next door.  Unexpectedly at age 32 my mother died during routine surgery.   My grandparents moved back into our home to take care of my older sister and I, aged 5 and 2. Laura was 59 years old at that time, and selflessly took over the care of two little girls and her widowed son.   She had great courage and an infectious laugh.  It was like she could never quite love you enough. Laura is my unsung hero and I wish I could speak to her now and tell her how much I appreciate the sacrifice she made for us.

At age 18 after graduating from Fleming College Medical Admin program, I was offered a job at Peterborough Civic Hospital as a medical transcriptionist. Most of the hospital workers were unionized, but the clerical staff was not. We certified under OPSEU in 1979 for our first collective agreement and have never looked back.

One act of injustice can change your life. Apparently the manager at the time in the finance department had gone to senior management requesting a wage increase for the “girls” working in Finance. CUPE and ONA workers were receiving wage increases but there was to be little money for the clerks. She came back into the office and said “if you girls want to get ahead you better join a union”. And so we did! Over the years since we have bargained one of the best collective agreements for hospital clerical workers.

Getting involved with OPSEU and the broader Labour movement changed my life in ways I never dreamed of. It gave me opportunities to become a leader, to gain the confidence to meet my opponents as an equal, to learn how to chair meetings effectively, to speak at a microphone in front of a thousand people, to understand how social justice, equality and diversity impact our community. To understand that what I wish for me, through the labour movement, we strive to achieve for all.

For example, working with Peterborough and District Labour Council, and as Co-chair of the Occupational and Environmental Health Coalition, we were able to convince Peterborough City Council to support an asbestos ban; part of a successful lobbying effort to stop asbestos from being imported into Canada. In Peterborough there is the ongoing tragedy of illness and death for GE workers due to exposure to asbestos and chemicals. When someone is in need, I want help – because I care.

The experience and confidence I gained in my Union led me to successfully run in the 2010 municipal election. Unfortunately we do not see enough women running for or getting elected in all levels of government. I am honoured to have spent eight years as Councillor in Otonabee South Monaghan Township. This is the level of government closest to people in their community.

Working collectively with others can accomplish many things. It’s not the work of one person alone and it is better to invite people to join together to add their voice and skills to the cause, whatever it may be. Climate Change is the biggest challenge before us. May we all come together to change old and destructive habits and make this a sustainable world.

Most days I find myself doing multiple tasks for my community, whether it is at Peterborough Regional Health Centre; as an executive member of the Peterborough ;
District Labour Council, and of the Peterborough and District Legal Clinic Board, the Keene United Church, and the Keene Lions Club.

The Burton household operates collectively with my husband Ken (now retired), three adult sons – Luke, Dan (Kristen) and Steve (Nicole); and two dogs – Max and Megan.

Life for me is full.

Others tell me I am ambitious, caring, adventurous and courageous. I do wonder why.

Maybe it’s because I took up fiddle lessons and love to ride horses.