Given the circumstances, the break from tradition is not a bad thing, she added.
“It’s healthy that we’re going to have a discussion right now about the future of the union … It’s good to have that kind of a discussion when you’re coming out of a crisis.”
At the start of 2022, Unifor delegates had expected to vote in a new president at the union’s August convention. Scott Doherty, executive assistant to Unifor’s national president, and Dave Cassidy, president of Unifor Local 444, which represents workers at Stellantis’ Windsor, Ont. Assembly Plant, had declared in February they would run.
The NEB, which is made up of roughly two dozen top union leaders, initially endorsed Doherty to be the next president on Feb. 1.
Dias, however, retired March 11, citing health issues. This disrupted the election’s timeline, requiring Unifor to hold a special convention to fill the vacancy.
The NEB then called for a pause in campaigning while it addressed allegations into Dias.
On March 23, Unifor’s NEB charged the former president with violating Unifor’s constitution, alleging he accepted $50,000 from a supplier of COVID-19 test kits he had helped promote to union employers. Dias said he was entering rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abuse the same day.
Payne publicly announced she was joining the union leadership race April 12.
Her candidacy prompted “some concern” over divisions within the NEB, Doherty said, particularly given the board’s earlier endorsement of him. To avoid any “fracturing,” he asked the board to withdraw its endorsement.
“It was simply a fact of trying to move things along and making sure there was no undue pressure put on anyone at the National Executive Board of who they wanted to support or not support,” Doherty said.
The board will not be throwing its support behind any other candidate, either, Doherty added. This means it will be a “free election” for any union member wanting to run, he said.
“It could be just the three of us, it could be more than three — that’s all up to the democratic process when we actually get to the special convention.”
Cassidy, who previously criticized the NEB’s endorsement process as “outdated,” welcomed the board’s decision to stay on the sidelines.
“Let’s let the members decide who they want to lead the organization. I’ve said that from day one.”
Unifor has not yet released a date for the special convention, with Payne saying the union continues to work through a number of organizational details. Doherty said late May is emerging as the likely date for the contest.
Cassidy, meantime, is among a contingent pushing the union to avoid calling a special convention altogether, favouring leaving the presidency open until the union’s planned constitutional convention in August. He said if the NEB uses its authority to maintain the status quo until the summer, it will allow for a more vigorous campaign as well as save the cost of an added election.
Unifor has previously confirmed a second presidential election will take place at the August convention, even if a special convention is held earlier.