In its first contested election in almost 10 years, Canada’s largest private-sector union has elected Lana Payne as the new national president of Unifor.
She is the first woman to hold the position.
“We have to consider that economic policy should be working for workers, and not just for a few corporations in this country,” said Payne after being elected.
Payne was previously national secretary-treasurer of Unifor. She defeated executive assistant to the president Scott Doherty and Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy.
In a statement, Unifor said as part of her campaign, Payne championed the need for greater transparency and accountability in the union.
Payne initiated an investigation into the former president
In her role as secretary-treasurer, Payne initiated an independent external investigation into former Unifor president Jerry Dias in January.
Dias was accused of taking money for recommending a company supplying COVID-19 test kits to Unifor employers. He announced his eventual retirement from Unifor’s leadership in March.
“The constitutional breach dealt a severe blow to the credibility of the union,” said Larry Savage, a professor of Labor Studies at Brock University who followed the race. “It was imperative that candidates laid out clear plans on how they would address the issue – and be transparent – restore confidence of the union in the eyes of members and the general public and it looks like Lana convinced delegates she was the person to do it .”
Dias was first elected national president in 2013. He was the first president of Unifor, which was formed after the Canadian Auto Workers Union merged with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.
Uncertainty, inflation hurting workers
Savage said Unifor has a lot of clout at the bargaining table — and at the ballot box.
“There is an opportunity here for the new president of Unifor to seize this moment in the Canadian economy – we have record low unemployment – you have inflation that is nibbling away at people’s paycheques – it’s an opportunity that is ripe for unionization.”
WATCH | Windsor auto workers react to Unifor leadership race:
When Windsor auto workers were asked about their reaction to the union’s new leadership, most pointed to the need for more investment as their biggest priority.
“It’s been a rocky road the last couple of years with COVID and now parts shortages. So a little bit of stability, a little bit of just calm in the waters — I think everybody will get back into the groove again,” said Dino Gatto .
“I think there’s a lot of good coming out of the union. I think there’s things that we can always improve on… Contract time is next year, so hopefully we’ll see some of those things come together.”
Unifor represents more than 300,000 workers across Canada in a wide range of industries.