CKVU has been an active local television station since 1976. In the late 1970s, a Staff Association was formed to represent workers who felt that they were not being fairly treated by the owners of CKVU. In 1985, while negotiating a new contract, the owners of CKVU forced the Staff Association into a strike which lasted 8 weeks. The situation made it clear to the local members that a larger support system was needed to aid in achieving their local objectives in the workplace. In 1985, after a number of presentations by national and international unions, local members voted to become part of NABET, the largest media broadcast union in the country. In 1994, NABET joined the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers Union of Canada (CEP). Over the years, the local union has negotiated collective agreements with five separate employers.
Unifor was officially formed on August 31, 2013, at a Founding Convention in Toronto, Ontario. It marked the coming together of the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) – two of Canada’s largest and most influential labour unions.
The birth of Unifor represented a sign of hope for the Canadian labour movement, and working people more generally.
For decades, union membership (as a share of total employment) had been in steady decline – particularly in the private sector. Running parallel to this decline in union density had been a sharp rise in income inequality, growing threats to retirement security, chronic unemployment and underemployment (particularly for young people) and a noticeable rise in insecure, precarious forms of work, especially among newcomers. The decline of union influence coincided with the rise of grossly imbalanced business-friendly policies, starting in the 1980s, that included tax cuts, labour market deregulation and corporate-led free trade deals.
Unifor was a bold answer to the question: “How do Canadian unions respond to the changing economy and these challenging times?”
Its large and diverse membership (that includes nearly every sector of the economy), makes it one of the most representative voices of our national economy. Its representative organizational structure and innovative forms of membership means it can better address regional economic and political matters on behalf of working people. Its core mandate – to be an effective union that is built by its members and deeply rooted in community – brings Unifor’s work into the day-to-day lives of Canadian families.
The Unifor project began as a discussion about union renewal in the fall of 2011 between former CAW President Ken Lewenza and former CEP President Dave Coles. Informal discussions led to formal talks among union leadership and staff. A formal discussion paper was prepared, which lead to a comprehensive, open and inclusive union revitalization project, spanning 20-months. Members were invited to follow developments of the New Union Project through regularly published reports, a frequently updated website, and were also asked to participate in telephone town hall meetings and online polls.
From its inception, Unifor has become a source of optimism and inspiration that a fairer, more secure future can be won for working people, that unions can adapt to changing times and remain a relevant voice for workplace and social justice.