| TORONTO, Sept 19
TORONTO, Sept 19 Canadian autoworkers' union
president Jerry Dias once publicly invited a critic to kiss his
behind, but the tough-as-nails image overshadows a deft touch in
negotiations, people familiar with him said.
Dias, 57 is leading Canadian contract talks for workers of
General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
and Ford Motor Co, whose four-year labor contract
expires at midnight.
The Unifor autoworkers' union chose GM as its strike target
and is demanding the company commit to producing new vehicle
models in its Oshawa, Ontario plant.
Choosing GM as the strike target is a high-stakes gambit,
given there is no obvious new vehicle production that could be
assigned to Oshawa.
GM has said it will not commit to building new models in
Canada until it has a contract in hand. Dias says Unifor will
not sign a contract without that promise.
"If we're going to have a dust up, we might as well have it
immediately," said Dias, who became Unifor president in 2013.
GM has been the most reluctant of the three automakers to
invest fresh money in Canada. The country has seen those dollars
go to lower-cost sites in the southern United States and Mexico.
Now, Dias will either lead Canada's first auto strike in 20
years or secure a contract with GM against the odds, which could
bolster union confidence as it heads into talks with Ford and
"Unifor was built to fight," he said at a 2014 United Auto
Workers convention. "We're sick and tired of playing defense and
it's about time that we started to play offence."
Dias, who grew up in a union family, began work at de
Havilland Aircraft in 1978, becoming a union plant steward,
chair and president in 1987. His father, Jerry Dias Sr., worked
at the same plant and was also union local president.
When Boeing put de Havilland up for sale in 1990, Dias
demonstrated strategic smarts in the way he led a fight to
secure a better deal, said Roland Kiehne, a co-worker at the
Alongside organizing lunch-time demonstrations that emptied
the plant, Dias sued the Canadian government for breach of trust
over the deal and convinced politicians to get involved.
It worked, and De Havilland was sold to Canadian plane maker
A fitness buff, Dias can whip up union delegates with
impassioned speeches, once inviting a critic who called him one
of Canada's five most feared men to "kiss my union ass" at a
Dias said automotive executives talk in specifics at
contract talks and expect the same of him.
"These aren't charm school graduates. These are people who
run major corporations," he said in an interview. "We ought not
mislead each other or soft pedal the delivery of what our
But he is also a pragmatist who knows how to get a
settlement, said Buzz Hargrove, former president of the Canadian
Auto Workers, which merged with another union to form Unifor in
Hargrove hired Dias as his assistant in 2007 after watching
him craft deals that improved worker benefits at de Havilland's
"He's not shy. He'll pick up the phone and call the prime
minister if he thinks it makes sense. And he may very well have
to do that before this bargaining is concluded," Hargrove said.
"He knows how to get out on a limb, but he also knows how to
(Reporting by Susan Taylor; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)