Former Unifor National President Jerry Dias was under investigation for an alleged breach of the union’s constitution prior to his retirement March 11.
According to a statement from the union Monday, Unifor Secretary-Treasurer Lana Payne received a written complaint about Dias on Jan. 26 and initiated an independent external investigation.
Dias, who had served 8 1/2 years as Unifor's national president, went on medical leave Feb. 6, before informing the Unifor National Executive Board (NEB) of his immediate retirement March 11, for which he cited health issues. The union officially announced his retirement Sunday, with no mention of the ongoing investigation.
Canada’s largest private-sector union, which represents 315,000 workers in Canada, including approximately 40,000 at auto parts suppliers and vehicle assembly plants, would not elaborate on the nature of the complaint.
“In order to ensure the integrity of the ongoing investigation and to maintain confidentiality in accordance with the Unifor Constitution, specifics of the complaint will not be divulged at this time,” the union’s statement says, adding it expects to receive the investigative report in the near future.
The statement also stressed each Unifor member is “held to the same standard and afforded the same rights” under the union’s constitution.
Dias, contacted by Automotive News, declined to comment on the matter.
Unifor’s NEB is scheduled to meet March 21 to discuss both the investigation and how to fill the vacancy left by Dias.
Dias was elected Unifor’s first president at the union’s founding convention in 2013, following the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. He was reelected to two further three-year terms in 2016 and 2019, and was expected to retire following the union’s 2022 convention, scheduled for Aug. 8-12 in Toronto.
Two contenders for Unifor’s top job declared their candidacy last month, but the change in Dias’s status from leave to retirement could disrupt the race.
Unifor’s constitution stipulates if the office of president becomes vacant, the NEB must call a “special convention” within 30 days to elect a new president. One exception to this rule is if the vacancy occurs within 120 days of a planned convention — though the Aug. 8-12 timeline exceeds this mark by several weeks.
Unifor would not say whether Dias’s retirement would prompt a special convention, stating only that its NEB will discuss the “constitutional requirements” of filling the role of president during the March 21 meeting.
'TARNISHES HIS LEGACY'
Dias was known for being a tough, bold and audacious leader willing to go to great lengths to secure job security, benefits and rights for workers.
Dimitry Anastakis, the R.J. Currie Chair in Canadian Business History at the University of Toronto, credited Dias with revitalizing the union and leaving it in a strong position, but said the investigation could diminish his reputation.
“It tarnishes his legacy considerably because if you've got personal scandals that are going to bring you down, all of the work that you do gets viewed in that framework,” he said.
News of the investigation is particularly "disappointing" because many unions have a history of internal scandals but Dias appeared to buck that trend and was “pugnacious, down to earth and a fighter for the ordinary guy,” he added.
Dias, meanwhile, "has stepped back from his responsibilities but has not resigned as chair of the Premier's Council on U.S. Trade and Industry Competitiveness," Rebecca Bozzato, spokeswoman for Vic Fedeli, Ontario minister of economic development, job creation and trade, said Monday.
Goldy Hyder, CEO of the Business Council of Canada, has stepped in on an interim basis "following Mr. Dias' announcement that he was taking time off to focus on his health."
Launched in December, the council is designed to fight U.S. protectionist policies threatening the province's auto industry.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.