Unifor sets national bargaining agenda at historic summit

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Unifor members standing and clapping

Building worker power means growing ideas from the bottom up.

The Bargaining Workers’ Power National Collective Bargaining Program Summit, the special one-day conference on Aug. 17 – the day before the opening of Unifor’s Canadian Council in Halifax, N.S. – brought together nearly 1,000 members to hear the union unveil its new bargaining strategy.

“We are bargaining hard everywhere, because right now, we have a moment unlike any other,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne in her opening address.

“A moment that many of us have been fighting for 30 years or more. A moment where workers feel empowered…When we change the conditions of work, we can truly change the conditions of the world. It’s a fact that collective bargaining is the great equalizer for working people. Standing toe-to-toe with our bosses, whether they be private firms or public agencies, we do this to make positive change in the lives of our members.”

The Bargaining Workers’ Power Summit caps off a year-long grassroots project where Unifor toured across the country, getting feedback from members and retirees on what they want to see in a national bargaining program.

In August 2022, delegates to the Unifor Constitutional Convention endorsed the union's 2022-2025 Action Plan, which included a commitment to update its National Bargaining Program, and to ensure the program is “informed through a cross-country engagement of Unifor local union leadership, bargaining committee representatives, activists and staff.”

There were 45 regional sessions beginning in February this year in Montreal covering every province of Canada from coast to coast with 1,731 bargaining committee members and local union representatives participating in the meetings.

Two additional sessions were held virtually, in June, including a special session involving members of Unifor's Equity Standing Committees.

“A union's strength lies in its numbers,” said Quebec Regional Director Daniel Cloutier.

“It's because we're all together that we're able to advance our issues. Each of us puts down our little pebble, and in the end, we realize that we've built a pyramid. It's important days like today that allow us to do this, everyone, together.​”

The input from all those meetings informed the program and was presented to delegates at the summit.

Unifor’s national bargaining program positions are broken down into the following themes:

  • Wages and Income Security
  • Health and Safety
  • Benefits
  • Pension and Retirement Security
  • Human Rights, Inclusion, and Workplace Equity
  • New Technology, Climate Change, and the Future of Work
  • Workforce Attraction and Retention
  • Job Security and Precarious Work
  • Union Building

“Working with grassroots members is always enriching,” said Olivier Carriere, Executive Assistant to the Quebec Director, who helped lead the working group along with Shane Wark, Assistant to the National Officers.

“It's where you tap into the different layers of day-to-day reality. It made me realize just how much our current choices will shape future negotiations, where solidarity and fairness will always win the day.”

See the full list of commitments from Unifor as part of BWP.

“It's been an honor to co-chair this Bargaining Workers' Power initiative, alongside Olivier,” said Wark.

“I appreciate all of the hard work done by our Working Group and staff. Collective bargaining is at the core of Unifor's work. There is nothing more vital to our union, and our members, than a bold, ambitious, and achievable national collective bargaining program.”

Payne, calling collective bargaining the “heart of democracy at work,” recommended Unifor delegates endorse the program, that the union develop additional supporting resources to support local unions, bargaining committees, and staff representatives, as well as monitor the program’s progress.

She also suggested local union leadership circulate and communicate the Bargaining Workers’ Power program to bargaining committees and their broader membership.

Canadian Council takes place in Halifax, from Aug. 18 to 20, 2023, as the union reflects on its 10-year anniversary and moves forward with hope, resilience, strength, and solidarity.

“Since our founding convention in 2013, Unifor has strived to use collective bargaining as a strategic tool,” said Payne in her speech.

“Not many unions in Canada, or around the world, can do this as effectively as Unifor. This is our power, and we have to take advantage of it wherever we can.”