Members of the Solidarity Movement in Unifor Local 222 have published issue number 1 of a new newsletter for members of their local. Distribution in the many workplaces represented by Local 222 began today. There is a regular history column – “Did you know?” – that features accounts of inspiring battles from our past. There is also an article on the important fight against 2-tier contracts by striking Nestle workers and the solidarity they received from the community, other workers, and members of Local 222.
The newsletter also highlights a long list of problems faced by Local 222 members, but also presents practical solutions for bargaining, communication, greater democracy, accountability, and solidarity – which are the key principles of the Solidarity Movement.
In the words of the newsletter:
The purpose of a Local Union is to bring together the members to advance their common interests. The top leaders of Local 222 fail to do that in so many areas – they have lost their way.
We have poor communication, no membership meetings, two-tier contracts, constantly eroding wages and benefits, and retired members have been left behind. It is outrageous that we pay our President and Financial Secretary almost $150,000 a year each, and they see no reason for restraint even though our dues income is down substantially.
Here are some ideas for positive change. If you agree with them – join us. Be part of discussing and preparing proposals to membership meetings. Help support candidates that pledge to implement policies that will benefit all the members.
Solidarity Movement Letter to Mary Barra and Scott Bell
When GM ended vehicle production in Oshawa on December 18, 2019 it meant the elimination of 5,000 jobs. Some senior GM employees were eligible for full pensions plus an incentive. Junior GM workers, especially tier two workers and TPTs were eligible for much less. Most of the over 2,000 supplier workers had no options and received the statutory minimum or slightly more. Now that GM is restarting pickup truck assembly they have announced that they will hire 1,500 assembly workers. This letter was sent to General Motors on May 31, 2021 urging GM to offer the new jobs to the workers they displaced in 2019:
May 31, 2021
Sent via Email
Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO, General Motors Company
Scott Bell, President and Managing Director, General Motors Canada
RE: The hiring of displaced workers, including supplier and support workers at the GM Oshawa Assembly Plant
As members of Unifor Local 222 and the Oshawa community we believe that it is a matter of justice that General Motors Canada offer employment on a priority basis to displaced autoworkers, including supplier workers.
GM alone decided to close the Oshawa plant, a decision that was made to serve only the interest of the company, despite the pleadings of workers, politicians, and Canadians across the country. While it is true that some high seniority GM workers may have left with a well earned pension and severance package, thousands of others directly impacted by your decision did not.
Over 80% of supplier and service workers were not eligible for any pension and left jobs whose wages didn’t provide enough to have savings to cushion the blow of lost employment. Also negatively affected by the closure were 400 workers in the second tier wage progression (many who were full-time temps for years before getting hired as seniority employees), 500 TPTs (many that were full time), and hundreds of other workers who were forced to abandon good wages and pensions when GM ended vehicle production.
Many workers severed their employment relationship with GM because they felt they had no choice. GM was only offering to maintain 300 jobs in Oshawa. They accepted as true what you told them – that GM was ending vehicle assembly. It was impossible for them to know that less than a year later GM would announce the return of the highly profitable Sierra and Silverado pickup trucks.
Supply chain workers at companies like CEVA, Syncreon, Lear, Inteva, and others, were not even given a choice in the decision to sever. They had their lives turned upside down through no fault of their own.
Now General Motors will hire 1500 assembly workers for the new pickup truck operation. GM, you have the ability to hire the workers whose work contributed to your profits over the years, including the workers from the supplier and service companies that were the hardest hit by GM’s decision to end operations in Oshawa.
This request is not without precedent. GM has previously offered jobs to workers affected by plant closure in our community. In the case of the Acsys closure, GM agreed to employ nearly every Acsys worker. In this case, GM is solely responsible for the loss of jobs and livelihood. GM may not have a contractual or legal obligation to rehire the workers they displaced, but GM certainly has a moral obligation to mitigate the harm they have caused.
We want to remind you that Canadians value loyalty and fairness. We are asking you to commit to hiring all displaced autoworkers, including the supplier workers, and requiring any company you contract with to do the same. This would be a small step towards repairing your relationship with the community.
These workers deserve the opportunity to put food on the table, look after their families, pay their rent, and get back to work.
We look forward to your reply.
On behalf of the Local 222 Solidarity Movement,
Rebecca Keetch, Vic McCullough, Chris White, Tony Leah
“Rebecca Keetch, a laid-off worker at General Motors’ Oshawa, Ontario, plant told Automotive News Canada the petition stems from frustration with the ratification process. Without knowing the full details of the contract ahead of time, it is impossible for workers to ask all the relevant questions they might want answered during ratification meetings with union leadership, she said.”
“This isn’t an attack on leadership in any way. This is an exercise in achieving our democratic rights,” Keetch said. “Our union constitution is full of statements about transparency and democracy, so I think that it’s important that whenever possible our union uphold these standards to the fullest.”
Automotive News also contacted Unifor President Jerry Dias about the petition. Instead of acknowledging that this issue is one that concerns thousands of Unifor members, including the 1,400 who have already taken the step of signing the petition, Jerry’s response was unfortunately dismissive:
“Unifor President Jerry Dias said the petition was not on his radar”.
Who does Jerry think are the mice?
Automotive News continues with this cryptic quote from Jerry:
“I’ll take my lead from the leadership, and leadership will make a decision on what they want to do internally within their own workplaces,” Dias said. “I don’t chase mice when I’m hunting elephants.”
The article ends with this common sense quote from Rebecca Keetch:
“The highlights sheet and the information meeting are extremely important aspects of this,” she said. “But how can you know what questions you need to ask when you’re handed a sheet just before you go in?”
She urged Unifor to follow the example of the UAW in the U.S. The UAW posts its “white book,” which details in full changes to the contract and agreements between the union and automaker, in the days leading up to a ratification vote.
“I think that a pretty important component to democracy is being able to make an informed decision,” Keetch said.
The members are the ruling body
The Unifor Constitution makes it clear that Unifor is intended to be a democratic organization, and that the members control the union. Article 2, Section 1:
“Unifor is a voluntary organization that belongs to its members. It is controlled by members and driven by members. Its role is to serve their collective interests in the workplace and in our communities. The life of Unifor is shaped by the essential ingredient of democratic participation. Democratic values are the foundation of all that we do. Our commitment to the principles and practices of democratic unionism define who we are and are reflected in our rules, structures and processes.”
When is the last time well over a thousand Unifor members signed a petition asking the union leadership to meet a simple democratic demand? The members’ concerns should be acknowledged not simply dismissed. Real democracy means taking our lead from the members.
We can only win what we are willing to fight for. Please sign and share the petition and spread the word.
Why do UAW members get to see the full contract before they vote, and Canadian autoworkers don’t?
Update: August 14, 2020
Canadian rank and file workers have long wanted the release of the full contract before ratification meetings. We shouldn’t have to find out later about details that weren’t revealed. We shouldn’t be handed a brochure as we walk into a meeting where we are expected to discuss and vote on our contract before we have done more than skim the information.
It’s important for autoworkers in Canada to know that members of the UAW in the United States organized around similar demands and won important victories.
The UAW now publishes the ratification highlights brochure and the full contract with all changes, on their website – where members can read it before they go to their ratification information meetings or votes! (https://uaw.org/uaw-auto-bargaining/generalmotors/).
The White Book:
The ‘white book’ is the full master agreement, with all changes shown. In the GM ‘white book’ all new language is underlined. Every word that is deleted is shown crossed out. Every new or changed paragraph is shown on a page with the date it was agreed, and with the initials of the parties.
The ‘white book’ also contains a list of all paragraphs that have not been changed or deleted. You can view the ‘white book’ for the 2019 contract with GM at this link:
This is an incredibly important resource. Ordinary workers have time to look through the agreement and look for the information that is most important to them. People have a chance to discuss with each other, ask questions, and consider the importance and impact of each change. This is exactly what the Solidarity Movement is demanding from the Unifor leadership. If the UAW can do it, so can Unifor.
How UAW members won advance disclosure:
The UAW started sharing the ‘white book’ in response to rank-and-file organizing by the New Directions movement and others. New Directions was concerned with the direction their union was taking. They fought to empower the membership and increase democracy. Sharing the full collective agreement before ratification voting was one of the democratic demands made by New Directions. Finally the UAW leadership agreed to produce limited copies of the ‘’white book’ and send them to Local unions. By the time of the 2011 contract with the Detroit 3, the UAW leadership was posting the highlight brochures and the ‘white book’ on their website. The UAW leadership listened and responded to the demands of the membership.
Would you buy a car after only looking at the highlights of the contract?
Our collective agreement is incredibly important, and determines our working conditions, benefits and pay for the next 4 years. It is profoundly undemocratic to force us to vote based on a list of ‘highlights’ when we have the technology to provide full disclosure. We elect a bargaining committee and trust them to bargain for us. In return, they should trust the membership and give us full information about what they negotiated 5 days before we vote.
[This message was sent August 11, 2020. We are now over 900 signatures.]
A message to Unifor members in ‘Big 3’ bargaining.
Sisters and Brothers,
Over 700 autoworkers from 8 different Locals have signed the petition to ask Jerry Dias to provide full disclosure of the collective agreement 5 days ahead of ratification and for a clear statement in the ratification highlights of all money and benefits negotiated on behalf of union representatives and any money or benefits negotiated to be paid to the Locals and/or National Union.
We are told to trust our elected representatives to bargain for us and we do. Big 3 bargaining basically takes place behind closed doors with very little information or room for membership participation. It is up to our elected representatives to do this very important work. But when the bargaining is done, it is up to the membership to vote to ratify the agreement. It is at this stage that the membership must have all of the information, both the actual contractual language and the presentation explaining the leadership’s position on what is being proposed.
This request should not be construed as an attack on leadership but rather an opportunity to strengthen communication and trust between leadership and the membership. Our union’s constitution is built on transparency and democratic values; informing and educating the membership is key to upholding these principles.
Members must have the right to look at, digest, and formulate questions on the document that will shape their work lives for the next 4 years and beyond. This cannot be done in any meaningful way as our ratification process is currently done.
This petition cannot ‘make’ leadership do anything but it is important that we make the effort to collectively communicate and it’s important that leadership listens.
Let’s send a strong message! Please sign and share this petition with your co-workers! It is challenging to reach everyone and can’t be done without YOU. Please have the conversation with your local leadership as to why this issue is important to you. Nothing will change if we don’t even try.
For those not on social media the petition can be found at SolidarityMovement.ca.
Full Contract Disclosure Before Ratification Votes
To members of Unifor in the auto plants:
Sisters and Brothers,
As 2020 bargaining is starting there is an issue that impacts all of us, no matter which company we work for, that must be addressed. The membership needs to send clear direction to the National Union that we must have full disclosure of the contract before we vote to ratify it.
This has been something discussed for years and it is long past time that this should have occurred. We have the technology to do this, we have the democratic right to have access to the entirety of what we are voting on, and the UAW posts the ‘white book’ ahead of ratification for their members.If the UAW can do it, why can’t Unifor?
The ratification highlight sheet and presentation are very important and appreciated but the current structure of ratification does not give members the opportunity to consider what they are being asked to vote on or to properly ask questions or raise concerns. This will be even more challenging during the pandemic as we can’t gather as usual for ratification meetings and votes.
It’s 2020 and it’s time.
We are asking members to sign and share this petition. For members that are not online there is a PDF version that can be printed and taken around the workplace if safety permits as well. (This can be found at the bottom of the electronic petition page.)It is up to all of us to make this happen. This is an opportunity for the membership to speak directly to leadership.
Please sign and share!
Petition to Unifor National President Jerry Dias:
The undersigned demand Unifor leadership provide full disclosure of the contents of the contract, 5 days before ratification, by publishing all revisions, additions, deletions and changes to the contract, clearly marked, on the Unifor National website and the websites of the locals involved in ‘Detroit Three’ bargaining. The UAW does this with their ‘white book’.
We also demand that the ratification highlights include a clear statement of all money and benefits negotiated on behalf of union representatives and any money or benefits negotiated to be paid to the Locals and/or National Union.