(Reuters) - A second union approved plans to create Canada’s biggest private sector union in a vote on Monday, promising to revitalize the labor movement with a merger between the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW).
Delegates at a CEP convention in Quebec City approved a 45-page blueprint for a new union that will boast more than 300,000 members, leaving representatives of the two unions with the task of naming the new union and determining how it will work.
CAW members approved the outline plan in August.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us to bring our two organizations together and to consummate this marriage of two hell raisers made in heaven,” CAW secretary-treasurer Peter Kennedy told a news conference announcing the vote.
Leaders of both unions have pitched the merger as a way to shore up the labor movement in the face of growing pressure for concessions and the increasing willingness of governments to intervene in labor disputes, often to the benefit of management.
Organizers promise to increase the size of the union, which will accept unemployed and retired workers and expects to merge with other smaller unions in Canada in the future.
“We have to be relevant and this brings us right down to the grass roots of every community,” CEP national president Dave Coles told the news conference.
“There are unions right across this country that are following this...I can also say that the world’s watching...”
But the current proposal leaves a number of potentially divisive issues open, including who will lead the new organization, what it will be called, and which political party it will support.
The CEP is closely tied to Canada’s opposition New Democrats, while the CAW takes a more pragmatic approach, supporting Liberal candidates where appropriate.
The vote gives a team of union officials the go-ahead to hammer out details like these, ahead of a joint founding convention next year where members will formally approve a final plan.
Coles and CAW national president Ken Lewenza would not say whether they will seek leadership of the new mega-union.
The new union will span growing resource sectors such as Alberta’s oil sands, where the CEP is active, as well as central Canada’s ailing manufacturing economy.
It will devote about 10 percent of its estimated C$100 million ($102 million) annual revenue to organizing, twice the combined spend of the two unions.
The CAW, formed in 1985 when Canadian car workers broke away from the U.S.-based United Auto Workers, wrapped up contract talks with Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co and Fiat SpA’s Chrysler Group LLC in September.
But mergers and layoffs have changed the face of the union, and only about 20 percent of its members are now auto workers. Its top leadership, however, is still largely drawn from members who work for the Detroit automakers.
The recession has hit industrial unions hard, and CAW membership - now 195,000 - is down 26 percent since 2005, according to documents released at its August convention.
CEP’s membership has fallen more than 20 percent over five years, to about 110,000, according to government data.
Canadian private and public sector unions have also come under pressure as the government several times pushed through back-to-work legislation, arguing that work stoppages could be damaging to an economy that only recently came out of recession.
But Canadian private sector workers are still more than twice as likely to belong to a union than their U.S. counterparts, official statistics show.
CAW members work at a number of major Canadian companies, including Air Canada Inc, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd and Canadian National Railway Co.
CEP, itself the product of a series of mergers, organizes in the news media, natural resources companies, and in Western Canada’s expanding oil sands, It also represents workers at telecom giant BCE Inc among many other companies.
Reporting by Allison Martell and Susan Taylor; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Bishopric