Unions targeting ‘precarious workers’ as they retool: Lewenza

Union leaders sound warning bells, strike optimistic tones in Labour Day messages
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 08/31/2012

Union leaders are laying a roadmap for the future of organized labour in Canada in their Labour Day messages.

Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW), said the challenge for unions is to be innovative and reach out to “precariously employed, low wage, part-time and temporary workers, including those new to Canada and those who participate in migrant work programs.”

He pointed to an online poll of 1,000 Canadians conducted on behalf of the Bank of Montreal that found about one-fifth of respondents feel like they’re stuck in dead-end jobs.

“It is this group I'm most concerned about,” said Lewenza. “If these numbers are representative of the Canadian population overall, then that means millions are stuck in jobs they don't want, earning less than what they need, without the prospect of anything better on the horizon.”

The worth of unions will be measured against how successful they are in organizing and improving the lives of these precarious workers, he said.

‘Mega-union’ has $50 million organizing fund

Lewenza cited the planned fusion of the CAW and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) and a new, more inclusive membership model as a reason he is hopeful.

“Part of this new initiative will be unprecedented outreach to unorganized workers — through community-based local unions, with the help of an organizing fund of $50 million,” he said. “Local unions will be hubs of activity for workers' rights and awareness, providing services to the membership and affiliated community members. A new membership model will allow for the organization to be a truly inclusive national general workers union — a genuine home for all working people, regardless of their profession, job, or employment status.”

Lewenza added unions will need to shift with the changing economy in order to better represent their members.

“Unions are living entities, moving and shifting as need be. This shift that we're now making is a profound one, a dramatic one and a thrilling one.”

CUPE focuses on retirement incomes

Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), took the opportunity to share some thoughts on labour issues on the CUPE Vancouver Local 15 web site. He made references to the challenges Canadian workers face.

He mentioned the union is hoping to improve retirement incomes for Canadians.

“I will also worry about the challenges ahead for front-line public-sector workers as corporations and governments try to make us pay the price for the global economic meltdown,” he said.

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