Unifor a year later 'work in progress' UofW prof says

It has been a year since Unifor, Canada's largest private sector union came together, and there are varying opinions on how it has been doing so far.
Unifor was formed a year ago on Labour Day, through the merger between the CAW and CEP.

It has been a year since Unifor, Canada's largest private-sector union came together, and there are varying opinions on how it has been working and been received. 

University of Windsor marketing professor and automotive researcher, Tony Faria, said while Unifor hasn't failed, it also hasn't done anything particularly significant during this time. 

"I would say at this point in time ... it's hard to grade Unifor in any fashion. If I had to grade them, I would only give them about a C," said Faria. "They're passing, they haven't failed, but they haven't hit a homerun either.

"I would probably say that they're a work in progress and it's kind of too early to really give an opinion as to what they might accomplish." 

University of Windsor marketing professor, Tony Faria, gives Unifor a C grade for its first years. (CBC)

He said the union has spent some time integrating CEP and CAW, the two former unions that created Unifor, as well as adjusting to a new leadership team with Jerry Dias at the helm. 

"Generally, Windsor has suffered in the past from a strong union image and that has scared off businesses, hopefully Unifor and the auto companies can work closely together and show that we can have a good, positive [relationship] between the auto firms and Unifor. If that's the case ... that shouldn't scare any businesses."

Faria points to some of the things Unifor has tried to accomplish during the past year such as trying unionize Toyota. 

"At this point that hasn't come about, but it's still ongoing. They haven't lost at Toyota, they haven't won at Toyota. They had to back off when they probably realized they didn't have enough votes to take a forward to a vote, but that's fine."

He also points out Unifor's recent success at settling some contracts with automotive parts companies such as Johnson Controls. A strike there could have caused the GM production plant in Oshawa to stop production until a contract was negotiated. 

A Chrysler employee works the line in the automaker's Windsor assembly plant. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

"Other activities that Unifor has talked about overtaking since it was formed, I haven't seen much action on them, but I presume there's more going on in the background and certainly having created Unifor is a positive for the union — it's a bigger group, it's a stronger group, and a stronger financially backed group," he said. 

In an effort to increase its membership, Unifor created community chapters.

On its website, Unifor describes community chapters as "a new form of union membership that aims to reach out to groups of workers that are generally excluded from union membership."

Potential groups may include those in workplaces where organizing campaigns have not yet succeeded; workers in precarious jobs; unemployed workers; students and any other group of workers hoping to improve their economic and social conditions.

Community chapter members still pay dues: a minimum of $5 a month for "non-waged members" and a $10 minimum for waged members.

A group of United Church ministers in Ontario joined Unifor. Clergy have launched Unifaith, a community chapter of Unifor.

Not that there haven't been losses, too. Unionized employees at Rose City Ford decertified earlier this year.

Unifor strong, confident leaders say

A year ago, Unifor Local 444 president, Dino Chiodo, predicted the new Unifor union would give his members a louder, stronger voice in lobbying government and a bigger war chest to fund battles at the bargaining table. 

The union claims it has attracted between 2,000 to 3,000 new members. Officials say they now have a bigger voice when it comes to influencing government policy, including auto policy. 
Former Canadian Auto Workers union president Ken Lewenza says Unifor is stronger by numbers and in a good place financially. ((Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press))

Over the past year union officials say the clout of a 300,000-member-strong union helped defeat Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak at the polls and succeeded in electing Hassan Yussuf as the new president of the Canadian Labour congress

Former CAW president Ken Lewenza helped craft the new union and said it has built confidence and pride in defending members at the bargaining table. 

"We are certainly strengthened by numbers, we have a very healthy strike fund, though it's a last resort to use it, we're very, very healthy relative to the finances of the union which gives us the ability to provide more services to the membership," he said. "

"There is no question that Unifor has regained a stronger presence in Canada as a result of our ability to represent every member in every sector."

Unifor's biggest challenge lies ahead, however, when it sits down to bargaining new contracts with the auto companies in 2016. 

Jerry Dias, Unifor president, said he doesn't see any reason to accept concessions while the companies are boasting record sales.


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