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CAW, CEP formalize plan for industrial super-union

Merger would represent more than 300,000 Canadian workers.


August 1, 2012
by Matt Powell, with files from Dan Ilika

TORONTO: In a long-awaited move to form an alliance between the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP), the unions released their final co-chaired report that strategizes ways the two will join forces and form what’s being touted as the largest industrial union in Canadian history.

“Our unions are mapping out the way to a new union that will focus on advancing the interest of all Canadian workers,” said CAW national president Ken Lewenza during an Aug. 1 press conference with CEP national president Dave Coles at Toronto’s Ryerson University.

A final decision on the merger, however, will come down to membership votes at the unions’ respective annual conventions in late August and October.

“The proposal will go to conventions where members will decide whether to go forward with the merger,” said Coles.

The yet-to-be named union is expected to represent more than 300,000 workers across Canada and will open its doors to temporary agency, contract and other precarious workers. It will also represent the unemployed and students.

“Any worker in Canada that wants to be represented, will be represented,” said Coles.

The two groups said they must join forces in order to ensure protection for existing members and inject some life back into the national labour movement.

Trade union membership as a share of total employment has slid 10 percentage points to 30% since the late 1970s, the report said, adding the situation is even more pronounced in the US where fewer than 7% of workers are union members.

The general global antipathy has shifted to “attacks on unions and collective bargaining” under the Harper Conservatives, the unions argued, citing several pieces of legislation that forcibly ended labour disputes at Canada Post, Air Canada and Canadian Pacific Railway.

“The new union will have a particularly strong presence in federally regulated sectors such as communications and transportation,” the report reads.

“Here we are on the front lines of the federal government’s assault on labour rights and are well-placed to respond.”

The event garnered much attention, enough to attract the outspoken leader of the Ontario Labour Federation, Sid Ryan and NDP member of parliament Peggy Nash.

Coles, who said the report outlines ways the CAW and CEP will revitalize the unions’ visibility across the country, expects the new union to complete final negotiations by mid 2013.

CAW secretary-treasurer Peter Kennedy said the new union would dedicate 10% of its revenues to organizing campaigns to attract new members, suggesting that by 2018, it would invest more than $50 million into those efforts.

“Bringing together the two unions created an opportunity for us to be represented in every corner of our country,” Coles said. “In every region, and in every community. The new union, I can assure you, will be very visible and extremely active. We will ensure we make change in the labour movement.”

Existing chapters of the CAW and CEP would remain as chartered locals of the new union and would report to five regional councils across the country.

The organization will feature a 25-member national executive board consisting of representatives of the various industries, races and regions under the union’s purview.

National dues have been set at 0.7% of a worker’s regular salary, roughly in line with CAW members’ current rate and slightly lower than the rate of 0.8% currently paid by CEP members.

The union will also have a strike fund of more than $135 million to provide support to those caught up in work stoppages, the report said.

Files from the Canadian Press