CAW abortion stance doesn't surprise expert

The issue of abortion has divided membership at CAW Local 444, whose members held pro-choice and anti-abortion demonstrations Monday.
The CAW has organized pro-choice rallies across Canada this spring and summer. (CBC)

The CAW’s decision to take a stand in the abortion debate doesn’t surprise one local labour expert.

"Unions for quite a long time have tried to address issues outside the workplace," said Alan Hall, director of the labour studies program at the University of Windsor.

Hall said unions have previously been involved in other social issues, such as poverty, health-care and housing. He also said the CAW has addressed women’s issues in the past and doesn’t think abortion is too risky of a topic for the union to touch.

"There will be some members who may not favour that position. And there will always be people in the community as a whole who will try to condemn the idea that the union try and speak out," Hall said. "But it’s important for a union in a sense to recognize the other side of the issue."

Hall does feel the CAW’s "political clout has weakened" and therefore makes it more difficult for the union to bring about change.

"Expressing a point of view 20 or 30 years ago might have had more impact," Hall said.

Abortion issue has split local

The issue of abortion has divided membership at CAW Local 444.

As part of a national initiative, the CAW held pro-choice rallies in Windsor and London on Monday night.

Several hundred people showed up to the rally on Tecumseh Road near the Met Campus of Windsor Regional Hospital.

Many more CAW members demonstrated across the street — either because they don't believe in abortion or because they don't feel the union should be taking sides in the debate.

Colleen Ferrato was one of those who demonstrated against the pro-choice rally.

"We have a huge membership. And because we have such a big membership and our ideas are so vast and broad, they certainly shouldn't be involved in this arena at all," she said. "They need to keep their nose out of it because their membership does not feel this way. We're outraged and disgusted that our voice is not being heard."

CAW says it has 'responsibility' to enter debate

The CAW waded into the debate when national president Ken Lewenza wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, stating the union is pro-choice.

"We are involved in the political, economic and social fabric of this country," Lewenza said. "We have an absolute responsibility to speak up on social issues. We’re stepping up to the plate on issues that affect Canadians."

Collette Hooson is a national union rep with the union. She describes herself as pro choice.

"It's a very controversial issue. There's no middle ground on this issue. You're either for choice or against choice," she said. "It's not something that you can debate and find a consensus on.

"We've had the debate within our union and the vast majority of our members have supported the pro-choice position."

Lewenza realizes the debate is a polarizing one. But he said the majority of his membership has spoken and the decision to take the pro-choice side is a democratic one.  "Many [union] leaders raised doubt" about the decision, Lewenza said.

"I can tell you, without any contradiction at all, that every decision we make is not unanimous," Lewenza said. "Everything we do is done democratically. Like every other decision there are people who oppose what we do but democracy works in our union."

Local 444 president Dino Chiodo made it clear to CBC News that his local did not organize Monday's rally. He declined to comment further.

"I’m proud of the women and the men who stood up [Monday] night," Lewenza said. "At the end of the day, you have to ask Dino why he’d step back from the issue."