Talk About the Union Advantage

August 31, 2013, 7:50 AM EST


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CAW National President Ken Lewenza bid an emotional farewell to his beloved union today, urging delegates to the constitutional convention make sure their families, coworkers and neighbours know about the union advantage.

"I leave the podium of the CAW for the last time as national president - and as the proudest member," he said.

Lewenza announced earlier this month that he is retiring this weekend. The founding convention of Unifor begins Saturday, bringing together the CAW with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union to form Canada's largest private sector union with more than 300,000 members.

"Tomorrow is about building a union," Lewenza said. "It will be about a movement. It will be about a generational change."

Lewenza said he is most proud of how the CAW has been an advocate for the rights of workers and has worked hard to improve the lives of its members and communities - priorities that Unifor will continue, and must continue.

"Why is it that our young generation can't have the same opportunities as us?"

Lewenza drew from a recent Canadian Labour Congress report that found that unionized workers in Canada make an average of $5 an hour more than their non-unionized neighbours. Unions should be talking about that, be proud of what they have done to improve the lives of their members and urging more people to join, Lewenza said, especially young people.

"When I was 18, I won the lottery," Lewenza said, retelling the story of how he followed his father's advice and got a job at Chrysler in Windsor.

That switch in 1972 took him from minimum wage of $1.65 an hour to a union wage of $4.65, plus a pension, benefits, time off, a seniority list and more.  Everyone, he said, deserves that kind of opportunity.

 In his hometown of Windsor and Essex alone, that sort of union advantage means  an extra $12.5 million a year pumped into the local economy, helping the entire community, including small businesses and the people who work for them.

And that's the message that proud trade unionists need to pass on, Lewenza said, that when unions help people improve their lives, everyone benefits.
Secretary Treasurer Peter Kennedy said Lewenza had the vision to see, however, that unions had to change to meet the needs of the next generation, and so started the process 22 months ago to bring Unifor into being.

"We had to do something different. The status quo was not enough," Kennedy said as he introduced Lewenza for his hour-long speech.
Lewenza pledged to keep working with Unifor after this weekend.

"I will be back, brothers and sisters, to work with you."

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