On Sunday, the national president of Unifor announced he is retiring from his role, effective immediately. Citing issues of health, the announcement comes just five months before his intended retirement in August.
In a statement emailed to all Unifor union members, Dias said, “After eight and a half years I can proudly say we have built an incredible organization and made Unifor the influential and successful union it is today. I have all the confidence the leadership, staff, and locals will continue to build Unifor into a bold and progressive force for working people from coast to coast to coast.”
Dias was expected to retire at the union’s constitutional convention, scheduled for August 8 to 12 in Toronto, Ontario. His immediate departure leaves a gap in leadership until a new president is elected at that time.
Two candidates have already thrown their hat into the ring for the position of National President long before Dias’ retirement was announced: Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy who represents Stellantis’ Windsor Assembly Plant, and Scott Doherty, Dias’ executive assistant.
National secretary-treasurer at Unifor, Lana Payne, said of Dias’ retirement, “Like all of you, we are all wishing him well and thank him for his numerous and impactful contributions to working people over many years, from his days representing aerospace workers on the shop floor to National President of Canada’s largest private-sector union.” She committed to working with Unifor’s leadership in Canada’s east “to ensure the important work of our union carries on, in accordance with Unifor’s constitution.”
Ongoing health concern
Dias has been absent from his post for six weeks as he deals with “ongoing health issues”. At the time, he posted on Twitter, “To my Unifor family: My Twitter account will be a little quiet for a while. I am taking some time off to deal with some health issues. I have every confidence the Unifor leadership team and staff will continue the important work of the union in my absence.”
During his absence, assistant to the national president Shane Wark has been leading any concerns and bargaining in the auto industry.
His effect on the automotive industry
Dias has been an influential force on the automotive industry since Unifor began, a merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers unions in 2013. He was installed as the first president of the combined union of approximately 315,000 workers, of which there are around 40,000 auto workers represented.
In the years following, Dias has been a key player in the automotive industry. In 2019, General Motors closed the Oshawa assembly plant despite Dias’ fight to keep it open. However, he was instrumental in its return to production two years later as light-duty pickups started rolling off the assembly line. He also negotiated for Canadian involvement with the Big Three and their transition to electric vehicles at the CAMI Assembly plant and others, solidifying a future in the automotive sector for thousands of Canadian workers.
During the pandemic, Dias was a proponent for rewarding grocery workers in British Columbia with “hero pay”, helping ensure that businesses could retain staff and backfill positions for those off sick.
Whoever is named Jerry Dias’ successor as national president at Unifor will have very large shoes to fill.
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