CAW Presidents Conference

May 6, 2010, 1:37 PM EST

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More than 200 local presidents and staff came together from across the country, including Quebec, for the CAW Presidents Conference April 27 - 29 in Port Elgin, Ontario. The conference was the first of its kind for the CAW in nearly 20 years. 

In his opening address, CAW President Ken Lewenza outlined some of the key issues facing the union, including a drop in members due to lay-offs and closures. Lewenza also highlighted recent organizing successes and stressed the importance of building diversity within local unions, particularly among elected leadership. He urged local presidents to think of their vision for the union's future, particularly on the eve of the CAW's 25th anniversary - to be celebrated at the CAW Joint Council in August.  

CAW Secretary Treasurer Peter Kennedy spoke about the union's finances and said that while the union is taking measures to adapt, both the national and local unions will have to increasingly be creative, particularly in outreach to local union members.

Bill Murnighan, CAW national representative in Research, also did a presentation on the make-up of CAW local unions. According to Murnighan's research 95 of the 236 CAW local unions have less than 200 members (four in 10 local unions), containing only four per cent of total CAW membership. Meanwhile 44 per cent of CAW members belong to very big locals of more than 3,000 members, of which, there are 15 locals. In the CAW, there are 137 amalgamated locals and 99 single-unit locals.

Attendees took part in workshops and regional discussion groups, where local presidents hashed out plans for greater collaboration across local unions, particularly in their geographic region. Area Directors will now be in charge of holding regular regional meetings to facilitate greater communication between the national and local branches of the union.

"The most interesting part for me was the chance to network with other local presidents, you could see that you're not alone in the issues that you face," said Rob Giles, CAW Local 4503, located in Valley, Nova Scotia, an hour and a half north of Halifax. Giles said that the regional meetings were also a great opportunity to meet local leaders in the same area and to find out what services and products are provided by CAW members.

CAW Local 111 President Don MacLeod that the conference was helpful in opening the door to discussion and communication between presidents. "Often we don't have the time or don't make the time to meet," said MacLeod, who represents public transit workers in B.C.'s lower mainland. "If local presidents work together on issues or campaigns, it makes us all stronger."

The idea for the Presidents Conference has been in the works since Lewenza was elected national president in September 2008.


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