Shields was born on Dec. 20, 1938, in New York City, where he grew up. He moved to Canada in 1969 and worked for 15 years as a social worker with the Victoria Family and Children’s Service. He is best known for his pioneering work as a four-term president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union between 1984 and 1999.
“It’s a sad day for the BCGEU. John was a great friend to me and so many of us at the BCGEU and within the labour movement nationally,” said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith. “He felt, ‘Equal pay for equal work’ was a mantra. He was a true feminist in that way … We’ve lost a real warrior. He’s left a hole we’re all going to have to pull together to fill.”
During his tenure with the BCGEU, Shields negotiated landmark pay-equity agreements and advocated for women’s, workers’ and First Nations rights. The organization said in a statement that Shield’s legacy, “can be found in every workplace in B.C. — in the improved working conditions, benefits and wages that were achieved during his time leading the BCGEU.”
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