Political Advocacy Core to Collective Bargaining Successes

April 5, 2013, 2:10 PM EST


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In his opening address to the CAW Council on April 5, CAW National President Ken Lewenza spoke to the need to be politically engaged to make progress for workers.

Lewenza spoke about the threats posed by looming free trade agreements - CETA (Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), with Japan and other Asian nations.  "These free trade deals will continue to put more nails in the coffin of the auto industry and good jobs here in Canada," said Lewenza.  "Many municipalities are now opposing CETA, but they are being ignored by the federal government."

Lewenza spoke about his recent meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper where he addressed issues such as non-reciprocal trade, the necessity of maintaining fair dues check-off mechanisms, and concern around starving the provincial health care systems through shrinking transfer payments to the provinces.  He said that Harper expressly pointed out that he did not agree with the CAW's position on regulating trade with the goal of establishing reciprocal trade flows.

Lewenza raised the importance of the union dues check-off system, which helps create greater workplace fairness. "In 1946, Justice Rand ruled that union security meant that every member benefits from the collective agreement, so everyone should pay union dues," Lewenza said, adding that the premise allows unions to make important improvements in workplaces across the country.

Lewenza also raised the terrible impact governmental austerity programs are having on working people around the world, particularly in parts of Europe where the official unemployment rate is more than 20 per cent. "Austerity programs are just not working."

Lewenza said that he's looking forward to the formation of the new union with CEP where the new organization will play a significant role in every sector of the economy. "We're not joining with CEP to be bigger, we're doing it to be a stronger union, with more clout at the bargaining table."

Women Represent!

In March, a delegation of CAW women participated in the United Nations 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York City, as part of a labour delegation. The union was recognized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) for the Women's Advocate program as an effective mechanism for helping women with issues of domestic violence, harassment and abuse, while at work.

The Women's Advocate program was first negotiated in 1993 at the major auto companies and has since grown to 260 trained women's advocates across the country.

The CAW Women in Skilled Trades program has also recently garnered acclaim for its innovative board game that was adopted by Skills Canada-Ontario into Skills Work! Skills Play! and unveiled on March 22. The game was originally developed as a module for the CAW's week-long Women in Skilled Trades and Technology Awareness program. The game is intended to draw young people (particularly young women) into the trades in an effort to help fill current and future gaps in an aging Canadian labour market.

The game will go into 2,000 schools across Ontario.

Pension Security - We Need it

Lewenza raised two outstanding issues for the union around pensions - at Nortel and Navistar. He expressed outrage at the recent collapse of mediation efforts over the distribution of Nortel's remaining assets and that the needs of former Nortel workers, pensioners and the long term disabled have been disregarded on account of bondholder greed. Discussions fell apart in late January to the detriment of former Nortel workers.  In the company's heyday in the mid-1980s, the CAW represented approximately 5,000 Nortel workers in five locations.

In the case of Navistar, the company is appealing a recent Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) decision aimed at protecting the pension rights of over 800 former employees.

Both union and company representatives will now have to appear before a three-member tribunal of the FSCO. The timeline for that tribunal hearing has not yet been determined.

The CAW represents members of Locals 127 and 35, formerly employed at the Navistar truck plant in Chatham, Ontario. Navistar idled the plant in June 2009, but only announced the official closure in July 2011.

Lewenza also referenced recent bargaining successes, including at Coast Mountain Bus in the B.C. Lower Mainland, General Electric facilities in Ontario and Hitachi in Guelph, among others.

He also indicated that at CAMI auto assembly plant, negotiations have been temporarily suspended on account of General Motors refusing to table the pattern bargained by the CAW previously. The contract pattern, normally followed at CAMI, was established at Ford, then GM and Chrysler in September 2012.

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