How are you making decent work a reality in Ontario?

The Atkinson Decent Work Fund is a grants program that takes aim at growing income and wealth inequality. It’s an investment in changing this reality. It’s also a sign of confidence in the people who are demonstrating that a just society and inclusive economy are possible, and inviting many others to join them in their efforts.

We support projects that increase our collective capacity to be strategic, communicate, engage people online and offline, experiment, spread solutions, learn from experience, share knowledge, and propose public policy options to drive change.

The 2016 Call for Letters of Inquiry closed on September 1st. Atkinson’s Board of Directors will make its decisions about grants by the end of the year. You can find more information below about the people and projects we support currently.



This 12-month project will lay the groundwork for organizing on the University of Toronto and York University campuses. The project will engage students, faculty, food service workers and operators and university administrators to better understand how to improve job quality for food service workers through the provision of better food quality. The full value of this investment will be realized when the universities have effective social procurement strategies related to food.

The 519 Church Street Community Centre is committed to the health, happiness and full participation of the LGBTQ community and strives to make a real difference in people’s lives, while working to promote inclusion, understanding and respect. Hospitality Workers Training Centre is a nonprofit organization that provides hands-on, relevant training and programs that meet the needs of workers and aligns with the needs of the hospitality industry. UNITE HERE Local 75 is also a partner in this initiative.


This 12-month project will organize the membership of the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario and Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare to advocate for professional pay and decent work. The insights and knowledge gained from community forums will be used to shape national and provincial policy positions for Ontario’s ECEs. The full value of this investment will be realized when ECEs have a more visible presence and voice in the larger movement for decent work and can translate grassroots engagement into policy wins.

The Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario has over 2,500 early childhood educators as its members and Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare is a coalition of over 800 childcare agencies and organizations. Atkinson Centre is a research hub committed to early childhood development.


This 12-month project will produce a documentary to explore the unique features of co-operative enterprises. It will tell a story that challenges ideas about work, ownership, entrepreneurship, democracy and collective agency. The feature length film, with an online audience engagement component, is anticipated in the fall of 2016. The Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada will take a lead role in using the film to create opportunities for social action. The full value of this investment will be realized when a younger, broader audience is engaged in conversation about the co-operative movement’s principles of shared ownership and democratic governance.

The Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada’s primary goal is the development of co-operative enterprises nationally and internationally. Powerline Films is a grassroots video production company that has been tackling social issues through film for over a decade. Other project partners include Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada, Ontario Co-operative Association, the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation and Measuring the Co-operative Difference Research Network.


This 18-month project will engage residents and stakeholders connected to the expansion to the Woodbine Racetrack. The expansion creates opportunities for local hiring and training in North West Toronto. This project aims to build community organizing capacity and support political engagement at the neighbourhood level, including deepening partnerships in Rexdale and developing a local hiring pipeline to link residents to tourism and hospitality jobs. This investment will realize its full value when residents have a voice in local infrastructure planning and land development processes and are benefiting from new economic opportunities.

Labour Community Services of Toronto acts as a bridge between unions and the community, providing a range of social services and advocating for social justice. They are working with Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre, UNITE HERE Local 75, and the Hospitality Workers Training to develop a community benefits strategy and action plan for North West Toronto – an area with high levels of poverty and unemployment or under-employment.


This 18-month project focuses on strengthening the growing base of migrant workers and their allies in Cobourg, Durham, Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton, Niagara, Windsor and Guelph. It will provide leadership training and tools to workers, map community organizations and services, and identify key “hubs” for migrant worker engagement and advocacy support. This investment is on track to realize its full value when migrant workers have a more visible presence and audible voice in discussions about policies that affect them.

The Ontario Employment Education & Resource Centre (OEERC) builds public awareness of workplace legislation through education and provides support for workers whose rights have been violated. The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) is a coalition of national migrant worker groups, grassroots organizations, unions, faith groups, activists and researchers that support migrant workers.


This 12-month project builds and strengthens community capacity to reduce precarious employment and create opportunities for decent work. It is focused on building leadership in three Toronto neighbourhoods, three cities in Southern Ontario, and three sectors such as health, young workers and faith-based communities. The project will also develop the capacity to participate in the Changing Workplaces Review, a province wide consultation process to review the Employment Standards Act and the Ontario Labour Relations Act. This investment will realize its full value when legislative amendments are passed to treat all workers fairly and to protect their rights.

The Ontario Employment Education & Resource Centre (OEERC) and the Workers’ Action Centre (WAC) share the vision that all workers in Ontario have equal opportunity and access to decent work, are protected by strong legislation and have sufficient income to live healthy lives for themselves and their families.


This 12-month youth-led research project will explore how racialized youth living in the Jane Finch and Malvern neighbourhoods understand their rights at work. Relevant tools, resources and training will be developed as a result. A key component is raising awareness about the lived experience and realities of young racialized workers and to organize for better working conditions. This investment will realize its full value when young people understand their rights as workers, are able to advocate for themselves, and are connected to the broader decent work movement.

Lost Lyrics and the Remix Project are youth led organizations based in the City of Toronto. Lost Lyrics uses arts-based programming to organize racialized youth and re-ignite their passion for learning. The Remix Project connects vulnerable youth to training and employment opportunities within the creative industries such as music, photography and graphic design.


This 13-month project aims to engage workers in Sudbury to better understand and map clusters of precarious work. It builds on existing alliances with partners such as Sudbury Legal Clinic and the Labour Studies Program at Laurentian University and creates new alliances. It also encourages Sudbury employers to join the network of businesses committed to providing a living wage to employees. The full value of this investment will be realized when a northern base of workers and employers are part of provincial efforts to create decent work and share prosperity more equitably.

The Social Planning Council of Sudbury work in partnership with individuals, community agencies, government, business, and the health and educational sectors to improve quality of life for all residents of Greater Sudbury through research and community development. Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre is made up of workers, students and community volunteers committed to improving the lives and working conditions of people in low-wage and unstable employment.


This 12-month project continues the focus on decent work in the nonprofit sector that began in 2014. Developing a pension plan for the sector is a cornerstone of ONN’s broader Labour Force Strategy. Partners will leverage their 7,000+ membership base through policy development, research, and engagement with nonprofit employers and employees. This investment is on track to realize its full value – (1) income security for workers in the nonprofit sector is on the federal and provincial pension reform agenda; and (2) employees have access to new pension arrangement.

Toronto Neighbourhood Centres (TNC) is an association of 30 nonprofit, multi-service organizations working for just and healthy communities. The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is a 7,000-member network focused on strengthening the nonprofit sector through organizing, educating and advancing public policy solutions.


This 18-month research project comes out of the region’s Good Jobs Summit that took place in the spring of 2015. It aims to answer the following question: What happens to the quality of work and life in communities when they lose a major industrial employer? Taking into consideration class, race, gender and immigration status, the research will draw attention to job-related quality of life issues that people are experiencing, and identify public policies to promote job security and a living wage for workers. This investment will realize its full potential when it informs and inspires action on the economic realities and opportunities faced by the region.

The University of Ontario Institute of Technology is partnering with the United Way of Durham Region, Unifor Retirees’ Local 222 and the Durham Region Labour Council to conduct community-based qualitative research and public policy analysis to better understand the impact of economic restructuring in the region on workers and their families.



This 17-month project will determine how the costs of community benefit provisions – job opportunities, training and apprenticeships, affordable housing and other neighbourhood improvements – can be factored into the financial model for redeveloping or renewing high-rise, low-income apartment buildings from the start.  The results of this study will be applied to three pilot sites, and will inform the planning process for tower renewal across the GTA.  Residents will also use this information as a tool to help create community benefits agreements.  The full value of this investment will be realized when every tower renewal site has a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) as part of its plan. 

Evergreen CityWorks is a strategic initiative of Evergreen.  It aims to improve how we plan and design cities, and to reduce the environmental impact of urban areas.  Their project partners are the Tower Renewal Partnership, DKGI Consulting, and the Greater Toronto Area Housing Action Lab – a consortia of more than sixty public, private and nonprofit partners working to improve housing affordability in the region.


This two-year project will organize residents to contribute to the Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) for the Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard LRTs. It will support the negotiations between Metrolinx, the building consortia, and the TCBN for this first Toronto CBA. It will result in a monitoring and compliance system as well as a model for connecting, screening, training and placing residents in pre-apprenticeship and first-year apprenticeships in the building trades.  This investment will realize its full value when CBAs are an integral and routine part of public infrastructure projects in Ontario.

Labour Community Services Toronto is a bridge between unions and the community, providing a range of social services and advocating for social justice. They are working with the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) to bring the community benefits approach to economic development to the city.  The TCBN includes residents, 23 community organizations, nine labour organizations, four social enterprise organizations and many others linked to its five work groups.  Other project partners include United Way Toronto, Maytree Foundation, Metcalf Foundation, Atkinson Foundation, Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, Infrastructure Ontario, Metrolinx, and the City of Toronto.


This 18-month project will reframe the community dialogue from reducing poverty to building community wealth.  It will develop strategies for decent work based on principles of shared ownership, democratic governance and the ethics of care. It will result in an economic development plan that will include an assets assessment, a set of neighbourhood-based economic well-being measures, and a shared vision for decent work in Parkdale.  The full value of this investment will be realized when residents are taking action to realize their plan, have identified policy changes required at every level, and are engaged to this end.  Additionally, they have the potential to translate their experience to other issues and neighbourhoods.

Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC) provides a range of community supports to psychiatric survivors, people who are homeless and/or disabled, and those living on low incomes. Their members develop skills through employment programs, social enterprises and alternative local economy strategies.  Their project partners are residents, West Neighbourhood House, Working for Change, West End Food Coop, Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, Parkdale Community Information Centre, Parkdale Intercultural Association, Parkdale Community Health Centre, Parkdale Village Business Improvement Area, and Greenest City.


This 12-month project will create new pathways for residents to benefit from the Eglinton LRT and from UTSC’s infrastructure investments. It will help anchor jobs, training, business opportunities, and neighbourhood improvements in East Scarborough. This work will connect with compatible social and economic development strategies in the community and beyond.  The full value of this investment will be realized when public funds spent in East Scarborough make the entire neighbourhood more prosperous.

Tides Canada Initiatives (TCI) is a shared administrative platform for groups working for a healthy environment and just society. East Scarborough Storefront (The Storefront) is a project of TCI, providing social and economic development support in Kingston Galloway/Orton Park (KGO) – an inner suburban low-income neighbourhood. The Storefront is partnering with University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus (UTSC) and the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) on this project.


This 18-month project will expand and strengthen the living wage movement across Ontario.  It will develop leaders and organizing capacity to influence employer attitudes and behaviour.  It will produce digital and print tools to standardize living wage calculations and engage the public in promoting the concept of a living wage.  An additional seven Ontario communities (from 13 to 20) will be engaged in a dialogue about the connection between decent work and decent wages as a result of this project.  The full value of this investment will be realized when a much broader base of local business leaders, advocates, academics, teachers, students, policy makers and labour leaders are working collaboratively and across related networks to keep Ontario focused on decent work and shared prosperity.

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Ontario) provides independent, peer-reviewed, nonpartisan research to advance progressive policy ideas. They are co-convening the Ontario Living Wage Network with the Hamilton Poverty Reduction Roundtable, Mennonite Central Committee and the Social Planning Council of Cambridge North Dumfries.


This “starter” project will make discouraged workers full partners in the search for more effective workforce development programs and local economic development strategies in a city that consistently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.  It will generate a shared vision of economic prosperity and concrete policy ideas around which workers and other stakeholders can organize in the next stage of this project.  It will result in a multi-media presentation designed and delivered by workers.  This investment will realize its full value when Peterborough implements new strategies to connect discouraged workers to decent work.

The Community Opportunity and Innovation Network Inc. (COIN) provides training for marginalized workers through the social enterprises they operate in Peterborough.  They have joined forces with InWithForward – a global group of researchers who have equipped people most affected by issues to work with institutional players and to create policy and program solutions.  Other project partners include discouraged workers, City of Peterborough, Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network, YWCA Peterborough, Community Counselling and Resource Centre and United Way Peterborough.


This 12-month project will organize migrant workers and their allies in Niagara, Windsor and Guelph.  It will map their work, assess barriers to their full engagement, and provide leadership training and tools.  It will result in a broader, more effective migrant worker coalition in Ontario.  It will also bring the voices of migrant workers into the wider dialogue on decent work and shared prosperity.  This investment will leverage other resources focused on developing leaders who can organize and mobilize workers in very difficult circumstances across the province. This investment will realize its full value when migrant workers have a more visible presence and audible voice in discussions about policies that affect them.

The Ontario Employment Education & Resource Centre (OEERC) builds public awareness of workplace legislation through education and provides support for workers whose rights have been violated.  The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change is a coalition of national migrant worker groups, grassroots organizations, unions, faith groups, activists and researchers that support migrant workers.


This 18-month project will create a formal alliance among health, social service and advocacy organizations around decent work.  It will produce an environment scan and survey, train network members and patient advocates on the connection between working conditions and health outcomes, and develop an intervention model with 30-40 underemployed primary care clients to connect them to decent work opportunities.  It will organize an interdisciplinary group of professionals and mobilize them to advocate for better policy and practices.  The full value of this investment will be realized when this approach seeds an even broader base of health and employment champions for decent work within and beyond primary health care circles.

Project partners are Workers’ Action Centre, Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, City Family Health Team – St. Michael’s Hospital and the Centre for Research on Inner City Health.  They are working with South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Sherbourne Health Centre, South East Toronto Family Health Team and the Wellesley Institute.


This eighteen-month project will engage TNC and ONN members to take action on nonprofit workforce development issues. Mowat NFP will support the project by researching and helping document priority issues and best practices. This will be incorporated into a provincial platform for engaging nonprofit boards, executive directors and funders in discussion about decent work in the nonprofit sector. As a result, TNC members will create an action plan to enhance their own employment practices. ONN will use develop recommendations and priorities that support participation in the decent work movement within Ontario’s nonprofit sector. This investment will realize its full value when donors, funders and policy makers evaluate nonprofit operating models through the lens of decent work.

Toronto Neighbourhood Centres (TNC) is an association of 30 nonprofit, multi-service organizations working for just and healthy communities.  The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is a 7,000-strong network focused on strengthening the nonprofit sector through organizing, educating and advancing public policy solutions.  Mowat NFP is a research hub within the Mowat Centre at University of Toronto focused on public policy for a stronger nonprofit sector in Ontario.


This eight-month project will bring the voices of students into the public arena with a perspective on youth unemployment, student debt and other issues related to decent work.  It will engage 12 student reporters to research and report on these issues for 12,000 readers on campuses across Canada.  It will also produce a resource to support other student journalists to report on decent work issues.  PSAs will be published in participating newspapers to promote the series.  This investment will realize its full potential when CUP is engaging other student leaders in building movements for decent work on university campuses.

Journalists for Human Rights helps journalists report on human rights and governance issues in their communities – ethically and effectively. Canadian University Press (CUP) is a national, non-profit co-operative, owned and operated by student newspapers from coast to coast.  Their project partners are 12 university newspapers across the country.


This nine-month project will mobilize airport workers and their allies to advocate for an affordable, quick and dignified public transit commute.  It will produce communications tools and broaden the coalition to influence the pricing strategy for the Union Pearson Express rail service. It will demonstrate the connections between decent work and public transportation.  This investment will realize its full potential when an affordable fare strategy is implemented.

Social Planning Toronto undertakes research and policy analysis, community capacity building, community education and advocacy and social reporting.  It is a member of the coalition TTCriders has assembled to work on the affordable transit issue.  Their partners are the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly, Toronto Airport Council of Unions and the Clean Train Coalition.


This six-month project will bring together criminalized people, social service workers and educators in forums on decent work in Toronto and Kitchener.  It will make the collaborative pedagogical approach at the core of this movement more widely known.  It will also broaden its base by demonstrating how to “re-humanize” the ways institutions and organizations support individuals in the criminal justice system, break down silos, and remove barriers to decent work upon their release.  The full value of this investment will be realized when criminalized people no longer face barriers to employment within those organizations that exist to serve them.

WilfrId Laurier University’s Faculty of Social Work offers graduate-level courses at the Grand Valley Correctional Institution for Women for ‘inside’ (incarcerated) and ‘outside’ (campus-based) students.  Walls to Bridges provides curriculum supports, training, and coordination for faculty, students and their community allies to extend this model to other Canadian universities and prisons.  It is rooted in the Walls to Bridges Collective – a group of students who have taken one or more of these courses and their professors.  Some of the collective members are graduates and some have been released from prison.