The Windsor Star
16 October 2012
With the merger between the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada a done deal, neither CAW president Ken Lewenza nor CEP head David Coles ruled out Monday a run at the leadership of the new super union.
When asked whether they were interested in vying for the top job, both Lewenza and Coles sidestepped the question, saying that discussion was premature.
"We have not talked about leadership because we have put the interests of our members front and centre," Lewenza said at a news conference announcing that more than 90 per cent of 1,500 CEP delegates voted in favour of the union merger at their convention in Quebec City. CAW delegates voted unanimously in favour of the merger in August.
Coles said any talk of leadership would have to wait until the union's founding convention to be held sometime next year.
"There has been zero discussion about leadership because it's not about us," he said. "It's about our members and when we get to the founding convention we'll probably work out the leadership."
With more than 320,000 members between the CAW and CEP, the merger creates the largest private-sector union in Canadian history.
"Today we witnessed history being made," said Coles. "It sends a clear message to the Conservatives and any other political group that thinks they can attack workers.
"An overwhelming majority of over 90 per cent of CEP members endorsed this progressive move," he said. "It's historic. It's a response to what big government, big corporations from around the world are attempting to do to ordinary, decent working people and retirees."
Lewenza said the new union will be built on activism.
"Workers are entitled to a stronger voice," he said. "This wasn't just about the labour movements. It's about building a different country."
The two leaders said the new super union would have the financial resources and political clout to tackle the challenges facing the labour movement.
It will dedicate $50 million over five years toward organizing and will reach out to students, retirees, the unemployed and workers in non-unionized workplaces.
"With this new union, we are sending out a clear message that labour is ready to do what is necessary to take on governments and employers who would like nothing better than to see us disappear," said Coles.
"Our new union will be well suited to take on today's challenges, particularly around the growing precariousness of employment," said Lewenza.
"Workers across the country will soon have a greater opportunity for union representation in their community and existing members will have more bargaining clout when sitting across from their employer at the negotiating table. We will be stronger, more effective and yield greater influence."
The new union will represent workers across 22 industries, including manufacturing, communications, transportation and transportation, education and public health care.
The merger comes as union membership in Canada has fallen to 30 per cent from 40 per cent in the 1970s. In the private sector, the rate is at 17 per cent.
A founding convention will be held next year to hammer out a constitution and new name.