Over 70 people joined local labour organizers to mark the death last month of a 62-year-old security guard at Guelph Central Station. After leaving a wreath and tying green ribbons outside the station in memorial to Mario Ruffolo, City of Guelph labour leaders told the crowd that Ruffolo’s death is a reminder that more needs to be done for workers, and that more needs to be done for people suffering from mental illness.
“This evening we stand among both unionized and non-unionized workers to state very clearly that every worker in Ontario has the right to go home safely after each shift to our families, and to our loved ones,” said Tricia Gray, who is a library worker with CUPE Local 1946. Lloyd Longfield, Mike Schreiner, and several members of city council also took part in the memorial.
“Without question, we need to go home to our families free from mental or physical harm, injury, or death. We unite together to call on employers like Metrolinx and GardaWorld to act in a responsible way by not putting profit before safety,” Gray added. “On behalf of all workers within our beautiful, caring and compassionate city, we extend our sincerest most heartfelt sympathies to the Ruffolo family.”
To the Ruffolo family, Gray said, “You are grieving now, your pain is raw and very real, but you do not stand alone in your grief. Please know the loss of Mario will not be forgotten by us.”
On January 15, Ruffolo was assaulted while working part-time as a security guard at the train station. It was his third day on the job. Ruffolo was taken to Guelph General Hospital, but was pronounced dead a short time later. A 21-year-old male was charged with second degree murder the next day in a Guelph court.
Andrew Cleary, who is the president of the Amalgamted Transit Union Local 1189 representing Guelph Transit workers, said that in Ruffolo’s death we must also remember the people dealing with mental health issues in our community who the government is also failing.
“Without proper support for mental health and addiction, our public spaces have become places of respite, retreat and refuge,” Cleary said. “Our workers are simply not trained to address these high risk issues, nor are we equipped to predict the outcomes or circumvent the results by diffusing the situations, especially when the situation escalates to crisis.”
A statement was read from the Ruffolo family, who are asking for privacy at this difficult time, but are also asking people to petition the City of Guelph to hold some kind of formal memorial on Ruffolo’s behalf.
“Was the public aware that their safety was in question?” said Connie McDonald, the president of CUPE Local 973 while reading the Ruffolo family’s statement.
“Why was there not two security guards working on every shift? This needs to be addressed for the safety of our security service guards and others,” said McDonald, who struggled with emotion while reading the family’s statement. “I believe Mario made $14 an hour, and two guards would have cost Metrolinx/GardaWorld $28 an hour, which is barely a liveable salary for one guard. Having two guards would allow one to summon immediate assistance when violence occurs.”
A statement was also read from Ruffolo’s sister Kathy, who asked for more work to be done on assisting security workers with their increasingly dangerous jobs. She also called out the failures of the healthcare system to get proper assistance to people with mental health and addiction issues.
“I not only hope that this will bring awareness to our failed system of protecting our workers against violence in the workplace, and that it will also bring awareness to just how badly our mental health system is failing those in need of care and support, and for the families who have to deal with loved ones afflicted with mental illness and addiction,” the statement read.
A collection for the Ruffolo family has been taken up, and Cleary said that Ruffolo, and the issues surrounding worker safety in this instance, will be given prominence at this year’s Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28.