Unifor’s Jerry Dias’s Political Rhetoric Poisoning Nonpartisan Duty of Journalists
Mississauga, ON—Unifor President Jerry Dias’s aggressive political rhetoric has stirred up controversy about the role of unions in politics and their responsibility to represent a membership with diverse political views, including nonpartisan journalists.
According to Unifor’s own media policy, “Journalism is essential to democracy. This is the first commandment of Canadian media. At its best, journalism holds the powerful to account, whether they are governments or private interests.”
Jerry Dias, the leader of Unifor, would do well to take these words to heart. Instead, he is only paying lip service to these journalistic values as he steers the union toward an aggressive partisan political approach. His campaign includes making massive political donations using union dues.
As part of their profession, journalists are mandated to maintain nonpartisan integrity and limit their own biases while reporting political content. Dias’s actions, however, have put the dues-paying journalists in a predicament with his immoderate rhetoric and partisan involvement. His political aggression is certainly not helping the cause of preserving traditional media and protecting the Canadian values of fair and balanced reporting.
“Regardless of what side of the political spectrum they land on, the integrity and political autonomy of journalists should be protected by a union that represents their employment interests,” says Wayne Prins, CLAC executive director. “The extreme partisanship demonstrated by Jerry Dias is reflecting unfairly on the journalists whose union dues are being used to make huge political donations.”
While Unifor’s advocacy for Canadian media content and protecting the jobs and livelihoods of its members may be admirable, cronyism with the federal government goes far beyond a union’s mandate. Dias has billed himself as “Andrew Scheer’s worst nightmare” and has made it clear that he is happy to continue donating the maximum legal donation amount to politicians who align with his views.
“Dias is free to use his own personal funds to donate to whatever political party he wishes,” says Prins. “But to represent his members well, he should be working for his members’ best interests, not just sharing his own opinions while spending hundreds of thousands of workers’ dollars to do it.”
In Canada, labour law allows unions to raid one another, meaning that workers can change their union representation if they are unsatisfied. The issue of union partisanship is one reason why individuals from other unions seek representation by CLAC.
“We encourage our members to be involved in the political process,” says Prins. “Although we engage politically to help shape public policy aimed at protecting our members’ interests, we do not believe a union should espouse a partisan approach to government relations. In fact, we have had members join us from other unions for that very reason. They recognize that we are committed to respecting various opinions and like the way we see our primary responsibility as protecting their jobs and improving their work-lives.”
Though nonpartisan in its approach, CLAC does not shy away from political engagement. For example, CLAC met with federal government representatives during the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project’s consultation and planning process, advocating for training, jobs, and First Nations engagement. CLAC also launched a campaign to ensure a fair and open tendering process for federally and provincially funded projects to combat wasteful monopolies and provide equitable access to government-funded jobs.