Windsor's largest union endorses NDP — How much weight does it carry?

The city's largest union is endorsing two NDP candidates in the upcoming federal election in what leaders call a targeted move.

Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy tells CBC News his union will throw support, and resources, behind the two NDP incumbents in Essex and Windsor West, Tracey Ramsey and Brian Masse.

"They're targeted areas. They're tougher areas," said Cassidy.

With 12,000 members that make up the union, how much weight does this endorsement actually make? Cheryl Collier, political science professor, said "it probably had more weight when unions had more power."

"I think in [Canada] we've seen kind of a waning of that influence," said Collier. "Having said that though, it's not like they have no influence at all with voters. There are some people that will take cues."

Jason Viau/CBC

Extra union volunteers

Cassidy said Unifor will assist the NDP by having volunteers in the Essex and Windsor West ridings.

"We put extra volunteers in those areas to make sure that we can get those people elected," he said, directing them to those NDP campaign offices to assist in different ways.

But Cassidy said the union's political backing isn't meant to tell members how they should vote.

"We provide them with the issues and go from there, and let them make their decisions," said Cassidy. "I think that's our obligation as a union is to put the weight behind who is going to accept those terms or the issues we have so that they understand them."

Unifor's top issues in this election

Here are Unifor Local 444's priorities heading into this federal election:

  • Manufacturing policy and auto strategy
  • National pharmacare 
  • Protecting seniors & pensions

Despite the NDP endorsement, Cassidy said the federal Liberals have been supportive after it was announced the third shift at the Windsor Assembly Plant would be eliminated. Roughly 1,500 workers are expected to be out of a job by the end of 2019.

"The federal Liberals, on our third shift, have been there for us," said Cassidy.

It'll be a competitive race in Windsor West, with NDP incumbent Brian Masse defending his seat against Liberal candidate Sandra Pupatello and Conservative candidate Henry Lau.

But there are a few reasons why Pupatello isn't getting Unifor's endorsement.

"She quit. She packed it in. Where has she been in the last 10 years?" asked Cassidy, referencing Pupatello's departure from provincial politics as a high-profile MPP and former cabinet minister.

It's been eight years since Pupatello left politics, she said, adding that "I didn't quit. I simply didn't run again." She also referenced the election of Liberal Teresa Piruzza, who went on to be a cabinet minister.

"We had access. When you have ministers, when you have people at the right table, Windsor gets access," said Pupatello. "Since [Piruzza has] been gone, we've had no access and that really is my motivation to get in."

And Cassidy said he couldn't support the Conservatives because "they hack, they slash."

"My union comes first before any political party," he said. "I want to make that very clear."

Even though the NDP wasn't in power, Cassidy said he appreciated Masse's fight for an auto strategy as well as his attempts to turn single-game sports betting into a reality.

Across Canada, Unifor has a list of about 30 "target" ridings, according to Cassidy. Most of those are NDP endorsements, though the union is also endorsing Liberals candidates in some communities.

Unifor Local 444 will officially endorse the two NDP candidates in Essex and Windsor West at a membership meeting later this month.

When it comes to a pick in Windsor-Tecumseh, Cassidy said it's premature, as the Liberals haven't even had a nomination meeting yet. That vote is scheduled for Tuesday.