Unifor head Jerry Dias retires, citing health issues

Jerry Dias, the longtime head of Unifor, is retiring from his position effective immediately, citing health issues.

Dias has headed the union since its formation in 2013

A man stands at a podium.
Jerry Dias speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Oct. 15, 2020. Dias, who has led Canada's largest private sector union since its formation in 2013, is retiring, effective immediately. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

Jerry Dias, the influential labour leader who has long guided Canada's largest private sector union, is retiring from his position due to health concerns. 

In a statement released Sunday, Unifor confirmed that Dias, who has been on medical leave since Feb. 6, would be stepping down effective immediately. The statement says Dias "continues to deal with ongoing health issues."

"After eight and a half years I can proudly say we have built an incredible organization and made Unifor the influential and successful union it is today," Dias said in the statement.

"I have all the confidence the leadership, staff and locals will continue to build Unifor into a bold and progressive force for working people from coast to coast to coast."

Dias had previously said he would retire in August, after his third term as national president. Two people have already announced bids for the national presidency: Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy, along with Scott Doherty, Dias's executive assistant.

The statement from Unifor said its executive board would meet in the coming days to "determine next steps and discuss the constitutional requirements around the vacancy."

"On behalf of our members and our leadership team, we wish Jerry well and thank him for his numerous and impactful contributions to working people over many years, from his days representing aerospace workers on the shop floor to National President of Canada's largest private sector union," said Lana Payne, Unifor's national secretary-treasurer.

Dias was elected national president of Unifor following the creation of the union in 2013, after the merger between the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Unifor now encompasses 315,000 workers across multiple sectors, according to the union.

During that time Unifor disaffiliated from the Canadian Labour Congress and has been active on numerous significant political issues, including the negotiation of a new North American free trade agreement. As part of a deal with GM, the automaker returned vehicle production to its plant in Oshawa, Ont., which it had previously announced would be shuttered.

Over the past several elections, Unifor has participated as a third party advertiser, largely campaigning against Conservatives.