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Building Stronger Local Unions together: Reaching our full potential

The founding of Unifor was a bold move. It marked the beginning of a journey to transform our union and the broader labour movement. And we set our sights high for good reasons: we understood that without fundamental change, we could not build the kind of movement that workers need, or succeed in winning the changes so desperately needed in our economy and society. It’s a tall order. But we knew that more of the same would not lead to the renewal and growth of our movement.

We’re into our second year as Unifor and we’ve accomplished a lot together so far. We’ve successfully built
the structures of our new union, we’ve proudly represented our members well, we’ve challenged many
employers and governments, and we’ve mounted effective campaigns to protect workers’ rights. Bringing
together our organizations has been a big job so far, but there’s still a lot more work to do. We knew from the beginning that to really move to a higher level, we needed to strengthen the part of the union that is closest to the membership: our local unions.

The local is our most visible presence in the community. It’s where members see the union in action, go to
meetings, hold votes, and participate in campaigns, committees and recreational activities. It’s where we elect leadership and delegates. The local union is the building block and the foundation of our entire union.
At our founding convention, we committed to undertake a careful review of our local unions, and to ask a lot of questions: How do we build more engagement and participation in the life of the union? What are the biggest challenges faced by our locals? How do we build stronger connections in each community? What do local unions need to help them carry out their work? What are the best practices? How can we take full advantage of the opportunities created by Unifor?

It’s impressive to consider the reach of our union. Our locals stretch from northern B.C. to the eastern tip of
Newfoundland and Labrador, and everywhere in between. With 305,000 members and 755 locals, we’re in
just about every community in the country, and with the creation of Unifor we added new sisters and brothers in many neighbourhoods. It’s given us an incredible opportunity.

There is tremendous diversity in how our locals are structured — some are very large, others quite small. Some have one bargaining unit, while others have dozens. Some are focused in one sector; others cover a wide range of sectors. Unifor was not built from just two unions: in many respects it was created from more than 80 unions that have joined together over more than a century. And our locals reflect every one of these proud histories.

We know that the diversity of our union is one of its greatest strengths. But our history should not hold us
back, or make us afraid of taking an honest and hard look at the challenges we face. If we were afraid of
change, we never would have formed Unifor.

Unifor’s Local Union Task Force will roll out this year by holding town hall consultations across the country.
This paper is intended to help inform our discussions, raise a lot of questions, provide the lay of the land, and highlight some of the opportunities in front of us. I urge all our local leaders and members to read it and to fully engage in the town hall meetings coming up in your communities.

If we stay focused on the goals of building stronger locals, while keeping in mind the opportunities afforded by Unifor, I am confident we will have a much stronger union. Working together, we can only win.