CAW President Urges Doubling of CPP

December 4, 2009, 5:00 PM EST

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Opening the CAW Council gathered in Toronto on December 4, CAW President Ken Lewenza urged the nearly 700 delegates from across the country to renew their fight for pension security.  This means doubling the Canada Pension Plan, so that all citizens can live in dignity, regardless of whether they have an employer paid pension plan or RRSPs, said Lewenza.

"People are now talking about pensions and we're reading about pensions each day in the newspaper because workers are hitting the streets," said Lewenza.

"Our ability to preserve employer-sponsored pension plans in collective bargaining will depend on us bringing every Canadian along with us.  If we don't do this, we won't succeed. This fight for fair pensions will be a defining moment for the labour movement."

Lewenza said that up to 75 per cent of private sector workers do not have pensions and only 30 per cent of Canadians have RRSPs, many of whom lost thousands of dollars with the global financial crisis and collapsing stock values last fall.

"If we can double the CPP, people then won't be scared to retire," said Lewenza. "Our government has it backwards, seeking regulatory changes to allow people to stay at work until 70 or 75."

Along with the doubling of CPP, Lewenza also said the union must continue to fight for a number of other legislative changes, particularly around severance, workplace closures and bankruptcies.

Lewenza highlighted the case of Nortel Networks, for whom just last week an Ontario court ruled the company has no financial responsibility for people who retired or who were on long term disability leave prior to the company going into bankruptcy protection in January 2009.  Around the same time, media reports revealed that Nortel is still paying massive executive bonuses.

"It is unlawful in this country when executives can get rich on the backs of pensioners," Lewenza said to a huge round of applause.

Collective Bargaining

The Council meeting wraps up a tumultuous year in collective bargaining and politics.  Lewenza outlined the last two sets of auto negotiations - with CAMI Automotive in Ingersoll, Ontario, which ended in September and Ford Motor Company, completed at the end of October. Lewenza commended both bargaining committees for their efforts in reaching the agreements that were ratified by members.

He said the auto industry gets a great deal of public attention, attention that should also go towards smaller workplaces where people are losing their jobs. "The auto parts sector in particular has been devastated over the last few years, as a result of constant restructuring and downward pressure by the auto companies to cut costs," said Lewenza.

Just as the auto industry has faced severe challenges over the last year, so too has the airline industry, particularly Air Canada which Lewenza called very vulnerable. "We can't protect the long term survival of Air Canada from constant negotiations," said Lewenza. Government has a role to play in supporting our national air carrier and linking communities across the country from east to west, he said.

Lewenza also congratulated technicians at Jazz Air for ratifying a new collective agreement. The customer service agents at Jazz Air have rejected two collective agreements and will vote on a new one next week.

The economic downturn has had a terrible impact on the retail, gaming, and hospitality sectors as well, where employers have attempted to exploit workers' fears to drive down working conditions, roll back wages and cut hours.

Lewenza highlighted the pending closure of the longtime Dominion store in Marystown, Newfoundland. He commended the CAW bargaining committee who were successful in negotiating an excellent closure agreement.

Lewenza urged CAW members to do their shopping in unionized stores.  Lewenza also called on members to continue fighting for increases to the minimum wage to make gains for both organized and non-union workers.

Workers in the gaming sector are also suffering layoffs and seeing their hours cut as their employers grapple with fewer tourists. In the hospitality sector, a number of hotels in B.C. will be entering bargaining this coming year. 

The union also opened bargaining with VIA Rail in October. The current agreement expires December 31.

Domestic Politics

Lewenza recalled that only a year ago at the CAW Council meeting in December, there were high hopes the NDP-Liberal coalition, supported by the Bloc Quebecois, would take over government and bump out the Harper Conservative government. Not only did this not happen, said Lewenza, but Harper has strengthened the party's hold on power with the Liberal party currently sinking in the polls.

Lewenza urged CAW members at election time, to actively work to ensure the Harper Conservatives do not return to government. He said the Conservatives are a party that despise unions and despise public services.

The union organized the first of what will be a number of cross-country leadership meetings, in Halifax, Nova Scotia last week where recently elected NDP Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter addressed the group. Lewenza had an important message for Dexter.

"You have to be different than the Liberals and Tory governments and stand up in defense of labour legislation and public services."

"We can't let Dexter off the hook," Lewenza told delegates.

Support for Public Services and Public Sector Workers

Lewenza urged the vigilant protection of public services as municipal, provincial and federal governments seek to pay down debts accumulated in the recession on the backs of workers.

Increasingly health care workers are under attack as hospitals are made to meet stringent budgets, regardless of its impact on care.

Lewenza also encouraged delegates not to fall into the trap of "tax rage," fostered by the unlikely coalition of the Ontario NDP and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, surrounding the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). "We want a strong civil society and that must be supported by taxes," said Lewenza.

Defending the National Gun Registry and Remembering the Montreal Massacre

Nearing the 20th Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, Lewenza reflected that the event was a catalyst for action to end violence against women. Women in the union in particular moved this agenda forward, creating equity programs and the Women's Advocate program, bargained into collective agreements across the country.  Part of this activism also involved more stringent legislation on gun control.

"I ask members to recommit ourselves to maintaining gun control in this country, including urging all Liberal and NDP MPs to vote against Bill C-391, which would destroy the national gun registry."

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