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Climbing Through CLAC

Jul 04, 2019

Steel toe boots? Check. Safety vest? Check. Hard hat? Check. Finally, a four month break from classes and homework. Time to work and make money!

How often does a summer job shape the rest of your life? For Wayne Prins it did. During the summer break between his second and third year of university, Wayne worked as an equipment operator at a diamond mine construction site in the Northwest Territories as a member of the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). It just so happened that this first hands-on experience would launch Wayne’s career in the world of labour unions.

Founded on the belief that a different kind of union was needed in Canada, CLAC got its start in 1952. Unlike the traditional labour movement’s view that the interests of labour and management were inherently at odds with each other, CLAC put forth the idea that both sides could work together for the betterment of the enterprise. Furthermore, CLAC believed that better outcomes for workers were achieved within the context of a cooperative and positive relationship between labour and management. From humble beginnings, CLAC has grown into one of the largest independent unions in Canada, serving nearly 60,000 members in a multitude of industries.

Wayne says that CLAC is rooted in core principles of the Christian faith, “It’s a union based on the belief that we are all created equal, that there’s inherent value and dignity in every person and, therefore, every worker. Also that there’s value in the labour of our hands because through our work we engage the gifts and abilities that we’ve been given. These principles remain central to the organization today.”

In his fourth year at King’s, like any soon-to-be graduate, Wayne began to think about life after school. As he pondered his uncertain future an opportunity presented itself: CLAC was looking for new representatives and Wayne landed a position at their Edmonton office.

“At the beginning there was exponential growth in the oil sands and CLAC was growing dramatically in Fort McMurray. There was incredible opportunity and CLAC needed an office there. So we moved in the fall of 2004.”

It was in Fort McMurray that Wayne’s climb began to escalate.

“We grew in incredible ways. Membership grew from a few hundred to almost 10,000 in the course of five years. It was a wild ride, it was a lot of fun. We recruited a number of other representatives and their families to move to Fort McMurray, many of whom were also King’s alumni. We grew to be a large office,” explains Wayne.

In his 12 years in Fort McMurray, Wayne progressed from being a representative, to the regional director in Fort McMurray, and finally the Alberta provincial director.

Then came the opportunity to take on the role of national executive director. At that point, the Prins family felt it was time to move back to Edmonton.

Wayne describes his role as being a mix between a chief executive officer and a chief operating officer, managing both the vision and mission of CLAC and developing a strategy going forward, but also managing the day-to-day operations of the organization.

On top of his CLAC duties, Wayne has many external engagements. Currently he is serving on the board of Build Force Canada and serving as president of the World Organization of Workers. “These are unique opportunities to take what we’ve learned at CLAC and extend the influence and reach of this approach globally.”

Of course, no one goes from representative to executive director overnight and in looking back, Wayne sees the slow weaving that brought his life to this point.

“I don’t recall a single ‘open door moment,’” says Wayne. “I see clearly the significance of an education from King’s as the starting point for the whole narrative of my professional life. Certainly I look back on my time at King’s and see how it equipped me to do this work. My education challenged and prepared me very well to make hundreds, even thousands of decisions throughout the course of my career. My experience at King’s rolled easily into a passion for the work we do at CLAC. We have to look to our faith to help us understand how we are to respond to the things happening around us as we operate in a highly complex and rapidly changing world, whether it’s dealing with members and issues at the ground level, or speaking with political leaders.”


By Sandra Thiessen

Common Threads: Stories from King's Alumni
Wayne Prins, Bachelor of Arts '03

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