Unifor creates Racial Justice Advocate program in historic deal with Ford

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Unifor’s historic new collective agreement with Ford Motor Company did not just establish an economic pattern agreement with the Detroit Three Automakers, it also set a precedent by establishing a racial justice advocate in the workplace.

“We started this round of negotiations with an understanding that our union needed to dedicate time and effort to negotiating strong and effective language to combat racism and racial discrimination in the workplace and in our communities,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

Negotiations took place amid tremendous uncertainty and anxiety particularly with the rise of far-right groups and increasing incidents of racial violence across the globe. Heading into negotiations, Unifor announced that its bargaining efforts would have a significant focus on escalating the union’s commitment to the fight for racial justice.

“Our bargaining team was firmly committed to expand the role our union plays in the fight to combat discrimination in all its forms. I’m proud to say that we’ve brought our existing fight against racial discrimination to a new level with a new and innovative program that will empower members to take action,” said John D’Agnolo, Ford Master Bargaining Committee Chair and President of Unifor Local 200.

Unifor and Ford Motor Company agreed to develop an ambitious Anti-Racism Action Plan that includes the establishment of a new Racial Justice Advocate program. The program will consist of specially trained Black, Indigenous, or racialized workers in each facility covered by the collective agreement, whose role will be to assist and support workers who face any form of racial discrimination, violence, and marginalization with peer-led support, direct racial justice initiatives, and promote access to community culturally appropriate services.

“The importance of creating this position cannot be understated. Our union recognizes the destructive impact systemic racism has on people’s lives,” said Christine Maclin, Unifor Human Rights Director. “This is an important next step in our union’s mission to combat racial injustice. What our members have accomplished in the auto sector sets an important precedent for other workplaces in communities across the country. We want to see this program negotiated as far and wide as possible so that Black, Indigenous and racialized members receive access to the support and services they need.”

A key role of the Racial Justice Advocate includes the development, implementation and review of an Anti-Racism Action Plan that builds on the union’s existing anti-racism and inclusivity efforts including coordinating with coalition partners like Black Lives Matter and Indigenous advocacy groups. While advocating for workers of colour will also encourage other workers to take a more active role against racism.

“This program is as much about advocating for individuals as it is about taking collective action. Everyone has a role in fighting racial discrimination at home and at work and in social spaces. That means not only listening to and advocating for someone but ensuring all workers are doing their part.”

Unifor successfully negotiated the recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at all Ford facilities on March 21. All operations will cease at 11:00 a.m for all workers to observe a minute of silence to affirm their commitment to ending racism.