TORONTO - Canadian Auto Workers delegates have voted unanimously to merge with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, combining two of Canada's largest private-sector unions.
The union said Wednesday all of the 1,000 delegates voted for the merger at the CAW's constitutional and collective bargaining convention in Toronto.
"This new union has the potential to change the way workers are represented in this country, bringing about stronger democracy in the workplace and greater community involvement," CAW president Ken Lewenza said after his union's vote.
"This union will pose a serious challenge to the unrepresentative, unfair economic and political systems workers now find themselves caught in."
The deal still has to be decided by CEP delegates, who will vote on the proposal when they meet in Quebec City in October.
The new union would represent more than 300,000 workers across roughly 20 economic sectors.
Most of the membership would be concentrated in manufacturing, communications and transportation.
Lewenza and other key players have said the two groups must join forces in order to ensure protection for existing members and inject some life back into the national labour movement.
It will be hard for the CAW to part with its name, Lewenza said Wednesday before the results of the vote were announced.
"But it's a name," he said, adding that a new approach to organized labour is needed in light of what he calls the government's attack on unions in recent years.
CEP president Dave Coles said the merger with CAW makes sense because the two unions share a similar history and have worked together in the past.
"Bigger is not necessarily better," he said. "But a bigger and better union is better, and that's what we're going to build."
The CAW began contract talks with the big U.S. automakers — GM, Ford and Chrysler — last week.
The union, which made concessions on wages, vacation time and other benefits when the U.S. automakers were struggling during the 2008-09 recession, has said it wants to share in the profits now that the industry has rebounded.
The automakers have said their focus during the negotiations will be to improve competitiveness at their Canadian operations, where labour costs are higher than in the United States.
Also on Wednesday, Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney addressed a persistent complaint of those who put the blame for weak exports squarely on the shoulders of the strong Canadian dollar. The manufacturing sector and auto industry have been particularly hard hit in recent years.
He noted Canada's export performance was the second-worst in the G20 over the last decade, with only nine per cent of exports going to fast-growing emerging markets such as China and India.
And he sought to dispel the notion that the high loonie bears the bulk of the blame.
He told union members that over the past decade, Canada's poor export performance is two-thirds explained by market structure and one-third by competitiveness. Of the latter, he said, about two-thirds is the currency while the rest is labour costs and productivity.