Canadian auto workers seek autonomy from UAW in move that could set trend
International unions in the United States are watching with some concern as the Canadian district of the United Automobile Workers tries to obtain a large measure of autonomy from its parent union in the US.
Canadian UAW locals will demand at a Dec. 10 meeting that the International United Auto Workers, based in Detroit, allow the union's Canadian district to control dues and strike funds collected north of the border. The district will also demand to be given more independence in choosing staff, administering union affairs, and bargaining with employers.
Kenneth Girard, chairman of the Canadian UAW Council, says its locals ''must be freed from outside (US) interference.''
If the Canadian UAW wins substantial autonomy, other branches of other US unions with locals in Canada can be expected to make attempts to break loose.Other Canadian districts of US unions, including locals of the United Steel Workers, are already restive.
The main complaint of Canadian union members is that although conditions are quite different north of the border, the predominantly US unions handle Canadian workers' affairs in much the same way as those of American workers.
According to the Labor Department, US unions and trade associations that do business on both sides of the border represented 23.8 million workers in 1980, of whom 1.6 million were in Canada. Most of the unions had Canadian district offices and staffs, but lacked voting strength to influence policymaking decisions.
The UAW claims about 120,000 Canadians among its 1.2 million members. Differences between UAW and its locals north of the border have developed strongly in the last five years.
The emergence of Robert White as a powerful and militant leader of Canadian auto unionists has widened the rift.
As head of the UAW Canadian district, Mr. White led negotiations between Canadian UAW locals and General Motors earlier this year - negotiations that resulted in a two-week strike in GM plants in Canada. When layoffs resulted as supplies from Canada were cut, US auto workers were angry with Canadian workers.
According to UAW president Owen Bieber, the Canadian contract is ''responsive to the needs of the Canadian UAW members.'' He says the contracts have equivalent gains.
Nevertheless, ''very serious problems remain'' according to White. He threatens a breakaway by Canadian auto locals if the problems are not resolved by Dec. 10.
''The relationship (between the US and Canadian unions) has to change,'' he recently told the Canadian UAW council.