CAW President Urges Focus on Full-time Job Creation

December 3, 2010, 4:45 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza voiced his concern at the recent surge in part-time, precarious work in relation to full-time job creation, in his address to CAW Council on December 3.

Responding to the release that morning of November's employment figures from Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey, Lewenza said that new job creation solely in the part-time category is no cause for celebration. "Workers must be able to realize their goal of having a full-time job, a job you can raise your kids on and later retire from in dignity," said Lewenza. November saw the loss of 11,500 full-time jobs, but a gain of 26,700 part-time jobs.

He noted that among the sectors represented by the union, there has been significant job loss over the last number of years but the union has been determined in its defense of workers, even after they lose their jobs.

Lewenza noted that the mass job loss, leading up to the recession and since has put a major strain on provincial budgets, particularly as they worked with the federal and municipal governments to set up stimulus programs and support local economies.

Provinces in turn have put pressure on public sector workers to freeze their wages, while failing to guarantee services or employment. In Ontario, the CAW, along with other public sector unions, was in discussion with the provincial government in order to come to a resolution, but these talks were ultimately unsuccessful. Now the union is being forced to send more contracts to arbitration.

"We want to bargain our collective agreements, to sit across the table from the employer and talk about our members' conditions of work," said Lewenza, indicating that arbitration is considered a last resort by the union.

In Ontario, Lewenza warned against the rise of the Progressive Conservative party, led by Tim Hudak. "Every single job creation or social benefit measure by the current government has been roundly criticized by the Conservative opposition. Tim Hudak would be as dangerous a premier as Mike Harris," said Lewenza.

Auto Industry

Politics played an important role in the preservation of the country's auto industry. "It has been proven without a doubt that the infusion of support for the auto industry was critical for the auto industry and maintaining these jobs."

There have been important signs of hope in the industry, one of them being GM's CAMI facility in Ingersoll, Ontario, which is now fully-utilized in production of the sports utility vehicles the Terrain and Equinox.

Auto Parts Day of Action

Lewenza called the October 27 Day of Action in the auto parts sector a "proud moment in the union." The auto parts sector is one of the oldest groups in the union and has faced incredible pressure over the last few years as employers pit one plant against another to stay open. The day of action was raised during an April conference of the auto parts leadership. The day culminated in a series of lunch-time demonstrations at 100 different auto parts facilities.

Lewenza also raised the stagnant situation at International Truck in Chatham, which has been shuttered for approximately 17 months, after negotiations broke down when the employer threatened to reduce the workforce from approximately 700 members to 100 members and send the truck work elsewhere. Lewenza said that the union is no closer to an agreement than it was at the beginning.

Revitalizing the Economy

Lewenza said that the union supports investment in green jobs. He voiced frustration though at the recent announcement by the Ontario government that the Siemens wind turbine contract would go to build a new facility in Tillsonburg, instead of putting the work into the company's existing facility in Hamilton, Ontario - set to close in July 2011.

He stated unequivocally that the union supports the promotion of green jobs in the province, but that when new manufacturing facilities are being set up, they should utilize brownfield sites, shuttered industrial buildings. "New jobs shouldn't be created in one community off the backs of another community."

Collective Bargaining

Rail bargaining at CN and CP is well underway, with CN facing a strike deadline of January 25 and CP on February 8. The current collective agreement at Air Canada will also expire early in the New Year.

In the gaming sector, employers are also trying to use the government wage freeze to table wage restraints. Lewenza rejected this argument, as many gaming companies like the OLG are extremely wealthy and can well afford to treat our members with dignity and respect. 

Workers employed in retail are facing pressure as union density has not kept pace with the growth in the sector. Lewenza encouraged members to support retail workers in the union, by shopping at CAW-represented facilities and buying CAW-made products. A full list of CAW-represented shops and dealerships was distributed at the CAW Council.

Improving CPP

Lewenza commended CAW leaders and activists for their work in pushing the agenda on doubling the Canada Pension Plan. Only 16 months ago, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that changes to the CPP were out of the question. Since then most provinces, with the exception of Alberta, have come on side with strengthening the CPP as a result of significant lobbying by labour. Federal and provincial finance ministers will meet on December 19-20 in Alberta. Lewenza urged all delegates to contact their finance minister and express the need to double CPP.

Members can send messages to the finance ministers here. 

Lewenza also talked about the need to oppose Bill C-49, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code which proposes changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Lewenza said that the act, rejected by all of the opposition parties, would criminalize refugees, creating a system of mandatory detention. Moreover, it would also contravene Canadian's commitment to the UN convention on refugees. 

Lewenza concluded with the need to strengthen the labour movement by working in tandem with other unions and the labour federations. He urged Ontario CAW local unions to re-affiliate with the Ontario Federation of Labour as of January 1.

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