Three longtime labour leaders have declared their candidacy to become the next president of Unifor as the union navigates its first, and increasingly complex, leadership transition.
Formed from the 2013 merger of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), Unifor represents 315,000 workers in Canada. That includes about 40,000 at auto parts suppliers and vehicle assembly plants.
Until his abrupt March 11 retirement, former President Jerry Dias had helmed the union through its entire history. While Dias had been scheduled to retire from the top post in August, allegations about his conduct have wracked the union and complicated the timeline for electing a successor. In March, Unifor's 25-member National Executive Board (NEB) alleged Dias accepted $50,000 from a supplier of COVID-19 test kits he had helped promote to union employers. A hearing that could see the former leader stripped of his union membership is planned for a later date.
Unifor was originally planning to hold a special convention to replace Dias this spring. Citing the added expenses of an early election, however, the NEB voted May 6 to leave the leadership position vacant until the union’s constitutional convention, which was already planned for August.
Given the unusual circumstances surrounding Dias’ departure, the union’s NEB will abstain from endorsing a candidate for the first time in its history, leaving the three candidates free to campaign and face off on the convention floor this summer for the top job.