Canadian Auto Workers

Canadian Auto Workers
Canadian Auto Workers
Caw logo.png
Full name National Automobile, Aerospace, Transportation and General Workers Union of Canada
Founded 1985
Members 225,000 [1]
Country Canada
Affiliation CLC, IMF, ITF
Key people Ken Lewenza (Pres.)
Office location Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW; formally the National Automobile, Aerospace, Transportation and General Workers Union of Canada) is one of Canada's largest and highest profile social unions. While rooted in Ontario's large auto plants of Windsor, Brampton, Oakville, St. Catharines and Oshawa, the CAW has in recent years expanded and now incorporates workers in industries from fisheries to air travel. The current president of the CAW is Ken Lewenza.



Split from UAW

The CAW began as the Canadian Region of the United Auto Workers (UAW).

The UAW was founded in August 1935, and the Canadian Region of the UAW was established in 1937 following a strike at General Motors's Oshawa, Ontario plant. CAW unionized the Ford Motor Company in 1945 after the a major strike which established the right of Canadian labour union members to dues checkoff. Before 1979, the Canadian Region was largely seen to follow in the contractual footsteps of the larger US-UAW, and despite growing differences, continued under the auspice of the UAW until 1985.[citation needed]

The reasons for the CAW split from the UAW are complicated. Holmes and Rusonik (1990) contend that although the Canadian labour movement has been seen as traditionally more militant than its American counterpart, it was in fact the uneven geographical development of both management and labour led the Canadian auto-workers to develop a distinctly different set of collective bargaining objectives, which placed them in a far stronger bargaining position as compared to the UAW in the U.S., and, ultimately, brought about the events that led directly to the Split.

Two of the main forces demanding the restructuring of management and Labour during this time were the rise of Japan as a major automotive force, and the general recession of the world economy in the late 70's and early 80's. Aided by the Auto Pact and the weakening Canadian dollar in relation to the United States dollar, a geographic difference developed which provided some relief to many Canadian auto-workers.

By December 1984, significant differences in the value of negotiated contracts, and divergent union objectives had set the stage for the creation of the CAW, a process documented in the Genie Award winning film, Final Offer. In 1984, the Canadian section of the UAW, under the leadership of Bob White and his assistants Buzz Hargrove and Bob Nickerson, broke from the UAW, led by Owen Bieber, because the American union was seen as giving away too much in the way of concessions during collective bargaining. Additionally, the UAW had been lobbying the U.S. Congress to force the transfer of auto production from Canada to the U.S. and the Canadian branch felt there was a lack of a representative voice during UAW's conventions. By 1985 the split from the American union was complete and Bob White was acclaimed as the first President of the CAW. He went on to serve 3 terms as president.[citation needed]


After separation, the CAW began to grow quickly in size and stature. It merged with a number of smaller unions to double in size and become the largest private sector union in the country. Most notable were the mergers with the Fishermen, Food, and Allied Workers and the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Transport and General Workers. The CAW also voiced strong opposition to the then-federal government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and such policies as the Goods and Services Tax and free trade. Under White and Hargrove, the CAW has moved toward the European model of social unionism and away from American business unionism[disambiguation needed ].[citation needed]

In the case Fullowka et al. v. Royal Oak Ventures Inc, held in the aftermath of an 18 month strike at Royal Oak Mines in Yellowknife, the CAW was originally held responsible for 22% of damages at trial, before CAW was successful on appeal. The trial judge found that the union breached its duty of care by doing nothing to stop illegal acts during the strike, paying fines and legal fees for striking miners, providing a person to assist the miners' union who prolonged the strike, and failing to bargain in good faith. At trial, the court ruled that the cumulative effect of these breaches of the duty of care were found to have materially contributed to Roger Warren's bombing of the mine, which killed nine strikebreaking workers. Warren, a union member who had been fired from Royal Oak, testified that he was only capable of the bombing because strike-breakers had been "dehumanized" by the union and was sentenced to life in prison. However, these findings of liability were overturned on appeal by the Northwest Territories Court of Appeal and a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada is pending. Furthermore, CAW members Al Shearing and Tim Bettger were sentenced to two and a half and three years in prison, respectively. Both were convicted of painting anti-scab graffiti and setting an explosion in a ventilation shaft on June 29, 1992. Bettger was sentenced to an additional six months in prison for blowing a hole in a television satellite dish September 1 of that year. (The unioned miners were part of the Canadian Association of Smelter and Allied Workers union (CASAW) Local 4 at the time of the strike, and merged into the CAW on May 1994.) [2]

In 1998, the CAW was deeply involved in discussions with Volvo Canada LTD. and the Government of Nova Scotia over the closure of the Volvo Halifax Assembly plant. In 2000, the CAW was expelled from the Canadian Labour Congress when several union locals left the SEIU and joined the CAW, prompting accusations of union raiding. A settlement was reached a year later that allowed the CAW to rejoin the national labour federation but relations with other unions such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the United Steel Workers of America and SEIU remain strained and the CAW remains outside of the Ontario Federation of Labour.

The CAW's relationship with other unions has also been strained due to its different political direction. The CAW is strongly left leaning and it has traditionally been a strong supporter of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois (Bloc). However, under former leader Buzz Hargrove, it began lending its support to the Liberal Party of Canada in ridings which the NDP were unlikely to win in the recent federal elections.

The CAW has attempted several times, all unsuccessful, to organize Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada.[3] TMMC Assistant General Manager and spokesman Greig Mordue stated "Our team members will decide whether or not a union best reflects their interest... At this point in time, we don't think they have anything to gain from a union", and described the defeat of the union drive saying "Our team members have recognized that a third party represents a complication they don't need." [4] Despite this, however, the CAW supported Mordue as the Liberal candidate in the 2006 federal election instead of endorsing the NDP's Zoe Kunschner.[5] Mordue attempted to take credit for bringing the new plant to Woodstock, but lost to Conservative incumbent Dave MacKenzie.[6]

The 2006 federal election saw the governing Liberals lose power, despite CAW support. Afterwards, the Ontario NDP voted to expel Hargrove for supporting the Liberals, which automatically suspended his membership in the federal party. The CAW retaliated by severing all union ties with the NDP, a move formalized at the CAW's 2006 convention.

2008-2010 Automotive Crisis

Industry analyst Anthony Faria has criticized the labour contracts that Canadian Auto Workers then-president Buzz Hargrove negotiated with the Big Three US automobile manufacturers in 2007, predicting that the subprime mortgage crisis and currency would hit Canadian auto production especially hard. Faria noted that UAW president Ron Gettelfinger agreed to have the UAW's "all-in" wage, benefit and pension costs drop from a high of $75.86 per hour in 2007 to an average of about $51 per hour starting in 2010. By comparison, the CAW's cost per hour was $77 in 2007 and will rise to over $80 per hour by the end of the new contract. Faria said that Gettelfinger went into negotiations "with the right intention...Save jobs. The CAW strategy was to squeeze every dime out of them."[7] Hargrove was said to have "instilled backbone and an attitude that the union could always make the auto makers buckle at the bargaining table".[8]

Current union president Ken Lewenza has argued that labour is not responsible for the bankruptcy crisis facing the Big Three automakers, saying that his members would not make concessions part of any taxpayer-funded bailout. "We don't see this as us being the problem", Lewenza said, adding he would "absolutely not" accept any further cuts after losing tens of thousands of jobs in recent years. "We've suffered our share of pain."[9] Lawenza argued that the CAW agreed in 2007 to make concessions that will save the Big Three $900 million over three years.[10]

A spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has criticized the CAW's "no-concession" stance, saying that it only serves to strengthen the opposition to a taxpayer-funded bailout for the struggling Detroit Three automakers. The CTF further pointed out that "It is especially difficult to understand anyone asking for government help that refuses to do anything to help itself to begin with", since they "fail to realize they've existed at the substantial largesse of taxpayers for decades".[11] Kelly McParland, a columnist for the National Post, has suggested that "if he won't give anything, he and his members are likely to lose everything." He also said that the problem facing the North American auto industry was borne equally by management and labour alike, criticizing labour for building up pay and benefits for themselves that was as unsustainable as it was enviable, while attacking management for its short-term strategy of selling gas-guzzling trucks and sales tactics (price cuts, rebates, free gas and cash-back schemes).[12]

The CTF has opposed the proposed $3.5 CAD billion bailout for Canadian subsidiaries of the Big Three, saying that it was an unfair financial burden on the average Canadian, as well as another excuse for the Detroit automakers to postpone much needed change. The CTF noted that federal and provincial governments spent $782-million in the past five years on the Big Three, saying "These have been a bottomless pit of requests for cash". Lewenza disagreed, saying that the bailout should be seen by Canadians as a loan that will be paid back when the country's economy is prosperous again.[13]

On December 20, the government of Canada and Ontario province offered $3.3 billion in loans to the auto industry. Under the plan GM will receive $3 billion and Chrysler will receive the rest. Ford only asked for a line of credit but will not be participating in the bailout.[14]

The CAW negotiated a cost-cutting deal with General Motors Canada on March 8, 2009. The deal would extend the current contract for an additional year to September 2012, and preserves the current average assembly-worker base pay of about $34 an hour. It would eliminate a $1,700 annual "special bonus," and reduce special paid absences or "SPA days" from two weeks to one week a year, while maintaining vacation entitlements which range up to six weeks a year for high-seniority workers. The deal also introduce payments by members toward their health benefits - $30 monthly per family for workers and $15 a month for pensioners. Lewenza said it also would trim by 35 per cent company contributions to union-provided programs such as child care and wellness programs. Lewenza called the package a "major sacrifice." However, observers noted that the deal did not go far enough; Dominion Bond Rating Service analyst Kam Hon described it as "not material." Automotive industry consultant Dennis DesRosiers said that General Motors had missed the chance to slash labour costs,[15] pointing out that bankruptcy was a looming threat, Ottawa and Queen's Park demanded cuts to the labour bill as a condition of the bailout, and that the deficit to the pension fund would prevent the CAW from striking.[8] He stimated the total hourly cost of a GM Canada worker, including benefits, is $75 to $78, and saying that "they [GM] got six or seven." when it should have been cut by $20. DesRosiers also said giving up cost-of-living increases is not significant when inflation is nearly non-existent and added that the 40-hour reduction in paid time off merely means "five fewer spa days." University of Toronto professor Joe D'Cruz calculated that it would save $148 million a year, though GM is seeking $6 billion in Canadian government support. [16] [17] CAW autoworkers with seniority were able to maintain 10 weeks of vacation with full pay, while not contributing to their pension fund, relying instead on taxpayers (including these without pensions) to help make up their unfunded liabilities.[18]

The agreement is contingent on Canada being allocated 20% of GM's North American, and getting billions of dollars in federal and provincial taxpayer support, which Lewenza stressed will be loans. However, some suggested that this would not be the final time that automakers would request a bailout.[19] Dennis DesRosiers estimated that GM will go through its government loans in a couple of quarters, long before any recovery in the market. Furthermore, GM Canada president Arturo Elias had admitted to MP Frank Valeriote that GM had pledged all its assets worldwide to the U.S. government in order to secure the first tranche of a US$30 billion loan, leaving no assets to collateralize the $6 billion loan from the Canadian government. The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation noted that between 1982 and 2005, Ottawa handed out over $18.2 billion to corporations, of which only $7.1 billion was repayable, and only $1.3 billion was ever repaid. [18]

Chrysler vice-chairman and president Thomas W. LaSorda (himself the son of a CAW official) and Ford's chief of manufacturing Joe Hinrichs said that the GM-CAW deal was insufficient, suggesting that they would break the CAW's negotiating pattern set by GM. LaSorda told the Canadian House of Commons finance committee that he would demand an hourly wage cut of $20, suggested that Chrysler may withdraw from Canada if it fails to achieve more substantial cost savings from the CAW. [20] [21] [22]

On March 31, 2009, the Canadian federal and Ontario governments jointly rejected the restructuring plans submitted by GM and Chrysler. This came a day after US President Barack Obama had rejected the plans of their parent companies. Both federal Industry Minister Tony Clement and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty suggested the CAW's initial deal was insufficient in cutting costs and the union had return to the bargaining table to make further concessions. Both governments maintained that these were needed to make the business viable in order justify the use of taxpayers' money. [23] Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has asked that CAW wages be reduced to the levels of non-unionized workers from Honda and Toyota operating in Canada, or else they would walk away from the proposed alliance with Chrysler, resulting in the latter being forced into bankruptcy. [24]

CAW leaders

Canadian Directors of the UAW

Presidents of the Canadian Auto Workers

Major CAW employers

CAW members marching in the 2011 Labour Day parade in Toronto

Major auto


Specialty vehicles


  • Halifax Shipyard– CAW/MWF Local 1
  • Marystown Shipyard
  • Shelburne Ship Repair

Electrical and electronics

General manufacturing

  • Collins and Aikman Plastics
  • Coca Cola Bottling Co. — Local 126 Local 350 Local 385 Local 973
  • MTD Products
  • Atlas Steels
  • Collins and Aikman Plastics
  • Honeywell Specialty Chemicals Amherstburg — Local 89
  • Kautex Textron
  • McGregor Hosiery Mills – Local 40
  • Parmalat – Local 462
  • Nestlé Enterprises – Local 252
  • Bazaar and Novelty – Local 462
  • Guelph Products
  • LTV Copperweld – Local 636
  • PepsiCo Foods – Local 1996
  • St. Anne Nackawic Pulp Co. – Local 219
  • Scanwood Canada Ltd. - National Council 4000
  • Selkirk Canada Corporation Stoney Creek facility – Local 504

Air transportation


Marine transportation

Other transportation


  • East Coast fish harvesters – FFAW/CAW
  • East Coast fish plant workers – FFAW/CAW
  • West Coast fish harvesters and fish plant workers (UFAWU)
  • Great Lakes fish harvesters and fish plant workers – Local 444

Mining and smelting

  • Xstrata – Local 598
  • Alcan – Local 2301
  • NVI Mining - Local 3019
  • Windsor Salt – Local 1959
  • Gibraltar Mines – Local 3018

Hospitality and gaming

Retail and wholesale trade

Health care

  • Cape Breton District Health Authority
  • St. Joseph's Health Care, London– Local 27
  • Versa Care Homes – Local 302, 830, 2458
  • London Health Sciences Centre
  • Grand River Hospital – Local 302
  • Camp Hill Medical Centre, Halifax
  • Extendicare Homes – Local 302, 830, 1120, 2458
  • Homes for the Aged, Thunder Bay– Local 229
  • Glazier Health Centre, Oshawa- Local 1136
  • Sault Area Hospitals – Local 1120
  • Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital – Local 2458
  • Windsor Regional Hospital – Local 2458
  • Northwood Care, Halifax - CAW Local 4606
  • St. Joseph's Care Group, Thunder Bay– Local 27, 229, 598, 1120
  • Ornge – Local 2002

General services

Related Subjects


CAW President Bob White plays a major role in the 1985 documentary film: Final Offer by Sturla Gunnarsson & Robert Collision. It follows the 1984 contract negotiations with General Motors that saw the CAW's birth, and split with the UAW. It's an interesting look at life on the shop floor of a car factory, along with the art of business negotiation.

Donation to the University of Windsor

The CAW Local 200 donated over $4 million towards the renovation of the University of Windsor's student union building, which was renamed the CAW Student Centre in 1991 as recognition of the gift.

See also

Syndicalism.svg Organized labour portal


  1. ^ "CAW Blasts Government on Dismantling Gun Registry, Rallies Members to Demand Action on Gendered Violence and Inequality | Canadian Auto Workers | CAW". 2009-11-16. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  2. ^ "Giant Mine decision affects labour and employers across Canada Law - Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, Yellowknife McLennan Ross Law Firm". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  3. ^ "CAW aims for Toyota". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  4. ^ "babble: CAW sellout Stanford backs Toyota Liberal". 2011-02-27. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  5. ^ "Election 2006". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  6. ^ Toyota angle didn't help Oxford's Mordue | The[dead link]
  7. ^ Doelen, Chris Vander (2008-01-30). "Thousands of CAW auto job losses predicted". The Windsor Star. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  8. ^ a b "This page is available to GlobePlus subscribers". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ "Car dealers plead for government help," The Canadian Press Nov. 21, 2008 online; "Labour rates not a problem in auto industry: Lewenza," Canadian Press, Nov. 20, 2008
  11. ^ Macaluso, Grace (2008-01-30). "Lewenza 'petulant' child". The Windsor Star. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  12. ^ McParland, Kelly (November 19, 2008). "Kelly McParland: Stop the revolution, the CAW wants to get off". National Post. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  13. ^ Nguyen, Linda (2008-12-13). "Canadian taxpayers and auto union butt heads over bailout". Canwest News Service. National Post. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  14. ^ Austen, Ian (2008-12-20). "Canada Agrees to Its Own Auto Industry Bailout". Canada: Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  15. ^ [2][dead link]
  16. ^ [3][dead link]
  17. ^ "Business News". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  18. ^ a b "Only CAW can save Ottawa from bailout". 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  19. ^ "John Ivison: Automotive bailout must not be free ride". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  20. ^ "Article". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  21. ^ Green, Jeff (2009-03-14). "GM Says CAW Union Pact Wins Parity With U.S. Foreign Automakers". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  22. ^ "RPT-Chrysler Canada cannot afford GM-CAW deal -source". Reuters. 2009-03-16. 
  23. ^ "This page is available to GlobePlus subscribers". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  24. ^ "This page is available to GlobePlus subscribers". Retrieved 2011-03-03. 

Further reading

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