Ryerson professor and CUPE 3904 president remembered as ‘funny, a great story-teller’

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By Alexandra Holyk

Politics professor and president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3904 at Ryerson Joseph Zboralski died on Oct. 6 at the age of 70.

Zboralski taught within the department of politics and public administration for more than 35 years, working at Lakehead University and the University of Toronto before coming to Ryerson. He became the CUPE 3904 unit 1 chief steward in 2012 and later became president of the Local in 2015.

During his years as a teacher, union member and leader, Zboralski touched the lives of many through his various anecdotes and funny stories based on his life experiences and travels. 

In their statement following his death, CUPE 3904 executives mentioned the hard work and dedication Zboralski put into everything he did within and beyond the Ryerson community.

“Joe was respected and liked by his students, his colleagues in the department, by administration at Ryerson, and of course, by all of us in the union who were fortunate enough to know him,” the statement read.

CUPE 3904 vice-president campaigns Mary Green said Zboralski had “a balanced way of negotiating,” which shone through his work with the collective bargaining process between the union and the university.

At Ryerson, Zboralski was involved in negotiating a new contract for contract lecturers, graduate/teaching assistants between 2017 and 2018. The union began negotiating contract agreements in August 2017, citing job security and unfair wages as the main concerns.

Since CUPE 3904 works closely with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), former RSU president Nora Loreto had the opportunity to work alongside Zboralski through various events and conferences.

Though Loreto held office in 2007-08, she kept in touch with the Local and Zboralski, recalling their connection “feeling like family.”

“[Zboralski] was part of that older group of people who have seen Ryerson through all of those changes,” Loreto said, referring to Ryerson’s shift from a polytechnic institute to a university.

“Joe was…part of a group of folks around [CUPE 3904] that really fought to try and save the heart of the university,” she said.

Loreto also mentioned she had Zboralski as a professor for Canadian politics during her time at Ryerson. 

“I don’t remember there being any people complaining about the class,” Loreto said. “It was very clear that he was an expert teacher and an expert communicator of politics.”

Greg Inwood, a professor within the department of politics and public administration, said his office was nearby Zboralski’s and recalls the constant “across-the-hallway banter” between them.

“I gained an appreciation of Joe the person as opposed to just Joe the political scientist,” Inwood said. 

Inwood added that Zboralski had a wide range of interests and approaches to life. “He was not a ‘sit on the bench and watch life go by’ kind of guy.”

When he wasn’t working, Zboralski was known for biking along the shore of Lake Ontario near his home in Etobicoke and often enjoyed skiing or boating. According to CUPE 3904 treasurer Richard Deklerk, Zboralski cherished these moments alone, though he never failed to share a memorable, light-hearted moment with his friends and colleagues.

“[Zboralski] always found humour in something,” said Deklerk, adding that “his stories about his…every day affairs” always made people laugh.

Deklerk also mentioned that Zboralski was very proud of his Polish heritage and his family. Zboralski is survived by his wife Teresa, his sons Alexander and Nikolas, his grandson Adrian and his brother Victor.

Zboralski and Deklerk met approximately 10 years ago through their work in CUPE 3904. They would often attend conferences on behalf of the Local together, along with Green.

“Joe was a really great individual,” Green said. “He was a wonderful leader because he was kind, he was courteous, he was respected by everybody and he was very insightful and resourceful.”

Green said Zboralski enjoyed listening to jazz and classical music, as well as attending concerts, operas and ballets. He also volunteered with cultural organizations in Toronto including TVOntario and Canada’s jazz station, JAZZ.FM91.

According to Green, Zboralski was an advocate for social justice and human rights. Through CUPE 3904, he also worked with the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, as well as supported the fight for the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign.

Loreto added Zboralski “is such a good example” of the people and activists whose tireless work often goes unnoticed, but should be recognized. 

“The majority of people are at Ryerson for such a short period of time…that it’s easy to lose sight of the folks who have been there for a long time and who’ve always consistently fought to make things better,” Loreto said.

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