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Robert Silver

Auto workers and EI Add to ...

A line from Kady O'Malley's blog today caught my eye. First off, she quotes a CAW spokesperson from today's Globe on the Harper EI reforms:

"Laurel Ritchie, national representative of the Canadian Auto Workers, said few laid-off members of her union - 'only handfuls' - have been able to meet the long-tenure definition."

Given that it's the job of unions to represent more than a "handful" of their members, as you might guess, this means the CAW is opposed to the Harper EI proposal (more on that in a second).

Kady then weighs in on the relative importance of the CAW on the NDP:

"It's also worth keeping in mind that relations between the NDP and CAW have been somewhat cool since that brief dalliance between the latter and the Paul Martin Liberals. But if the Canadian Labour Congress - which has thus far held its fire, even going so far as to call the idea of extending benefits for long-term workers ' helpful' if limited - comes out against it, it's hard to see how Jack's pack can't do the same. Even if they don't, some NDP MPs - particularly those in ridings where CAW holds sway - may spend the upcoming G20 break week huddled in the riding office, fielding calls from outraged local labour groups."

All good points by Kady.

There is one person though who may be in a slightly more difficult position. The NDP has a national president by the name of Peggy Nash. She is a former MP who lost in 2008 to Gerard Kennedy. According to the CAW, since being elected as NDP party president, she remains an " assistant to the CAW national president". Nothing wrong with that - I can't imagine that being NDP president is a paid position.

Here's the thing; the quotes the Globe printed from the CAW representative today are fairly mild. On their website, CAW President Ken Lewenza (the person who Nash serves as an "assistant" to) describes the Harper EI proposal as " crumbs to unemployed Canadians at a time when they are in need of a full loaf of bread." He goes on to say: "The government's proposal for additional weeks of EI for longer service workers will not help the vast majority of the country's 1.6 million unemployed, including many CAW members."

Doesn't make the Harper EI proposal sound like a "good first step" (Jack Layton's words) to me. I'm not sure how one could read the CAW press release and conclude the Harper EI proposal is anything other than DOA as far as the CAW is concerned.

But back to Nash. Again, to be clear, I have no quibbles with Peggy Nash working for the CAW while serving as NDP party president. I also have no problem with the CAW disagreeing with the NDP - heck, I encourage it. This tiny little disagreement - you know, is the EI proposal a good first step or is it screwing 1.6 million unemployed Canadians? - does put the NDP party president in a tiny bit of an awkward spot, I would think.

I wonder if an enterprising reporter might throw a microphone in front of her some time today and see what she thinks about all of this...

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