Unifor national secretary-treasurer named next president of Canadian autoworker union

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Delegates for Unifor elected Lana Payne as the next president Canada's largest private sector union representing Detroit Three automaker employees.

About 1,000 voting delegates from across the country chose Payne, the union's  national secretary-treasurer, at Unifor's constitutional convention Wednesday. Payne is the first woman to hold both positions at the union.

She defeated Executive Assistant to the President Scott Doherty and Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy.

"Today we turn a page. Today we move forward," Payne said during a speech to delegates after the election. "Today and every day we put our members at the heart of everything we do because they deserve this of us and they should continue to demand it of us. We can have a fighting democratic, transparent union. We can build this union stronger. And we will." 

Throughout her campaign, Payne "championed the need for greater transparency and accountability in the union," Unifor said in a press release announcing her as the next president.

Payne is taking the reins at a critical time for Unifor as it prepares for the auto industry's electric future with new contract negotiations set for September 2023 — the same time the United Auto Workers will be negotiating with the Detroit Three. The Canadian union has already secured some electric vehicle investment from the automakers, but it will likely look to secure more and seek to get battery plant operations unionized. 

General Motors Co. is transitioning its CAMI plant in Ontario to build the electric BrightDrop electric vans later this year. Stellantis NV, maker of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles, said in May it would invest $2.8 billion into its Windsor and Brampton assembly plants for EV production. Ford Motor Co.'s Oakville plant in Ontario is supposed to start EV production in 2025 after the union won product for the plant during the 2020 negotiations. The plant is slated to build five new EVs. 

The election comes months after former Unifor president Jerry Dias resigned and was accused of breaching the union's constitution by accepting funds from a third-party supplier. 

Dias was accused of accepting $50,000 in Canadian money (about $39,700 U.S.) from an unnamed supplier of COVID-19 rapid tests that he promoted to employers of his members. Several employers purchased the tests.

On the same day Unifor released details of the allegation against him in March, Dias said he was entering a residential rehabilitation facility.