Jerry Dias, resigned president of Canadian autoworkers union Unifor, under investigation

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The just-resigned national president of Unifor is under investigation by the Canadian autoworkers union for "an alleged breach" of the organization's constitution, Unifor disclosed on Monday.

That's just days after Jerry Dias, 64, on Friday resigned effective immediately from the top position of Canada's largest private sector union that has more than 315,000 members, including workers at the Detroit Three's auto plants in the country. Dias cited health issues. He had been on medical leave since Feb. 6.

Jerry Dias, president of UNIFOR, the union representing the workers of Oshawa's General Motors car assembly plant, speaks to the workers at the union headquarters, in Oshawa, Ont. on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press via AP)

That came after Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer Lana Payne received a written complaint on Jan. 26 claiming Dias had violated Unifor's constitution, which prompted an independent external investigation. The union declined to comment further on the nature of the complaint until it's received the result of the investigation, which is "expected in the near future," according to Unifor's statement.

"In order to ensure the integrity of the ongoing investigation and to maintain confidentiality in accordance with the Unifor Constitution, specifics of the complaint will not be divulged at this time."

Dias was notified of the investigation on Jan. 29, according to the union. The Detroit News left a voicemail with him on Monday afternoon.

“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," Dias said in a statement Sunday announcing his resignation.

Payne said in a statement, which didn't mention the investigation, at the time: “On behalf of our members and our leadership team, we wish Jerry 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."

Unifor's National Executive Board is scheduled to meet on the investigation and the vacancy of the presidency on March 21. It previously was expected that Dias would retire in August after the union's constitutional convention, where a new leader will be elected. Dias was elected in 2013 and was in his third term.

In that time, Dias acted as a consultant to the Canadian government and its negotiating team on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement; launched a campaign to save General Motors Co.'s plant in Oshawa, Ontario; and helped workers navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The investigation comes as the United Auto Workers in the United States attempts to move on from a corruption scandal. A federal investigation into UAW training center finances and the former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV labor relations resulted in the convictions of 15 people, including two former presidents, and in members voting in November to amend the UAW constitution to require direct elections of international leaders.

Also in November, a federal watchdog overseeing the UAW disclosed an investigation of President Ray Curry by the union's independent ethics officer for possible ethical misconduct for accepting almost $2,000 worth of tickets to the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship game from a union vendor when he was a regional director. Curry has since paid back the value of the tickets.

Both unions historically have had clean reputations, noted Art Wheaton, an automotive industry specialist at Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations School.

“I am surprised," he said of the investigation into Dias. "We have to wait and let due process work itself out. You can never say never. You wouldn’t have thought some members in the UAW leadership would be involved in what they were. If it happened there, it’s certainly possible it happened at Unifor.”

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble