The abrupt resignation of Jerry Dias as president of Unifor amid an accusation of corruption and a reckoning with personal problems leaves a dark cloud of suspicion over a career that had moments of brilliance.
Dias, named an Automotive News All-Star four times during his eight years leading the Canadian union, was never afraid to play the bare-knuckle brawler and provocateur in his quest to keep the Detroit 3's Canadian factories humming and to secure the futures of his blue-collar comrades. For his most recent All-Star award, in 2020, we cited Dias for negotiating deals that surely saved a big chunk of the Canadian industry from collapse.
At the bargaining table, he won $3.75 billion in investment commitments from the automakers, including the country's first major foray into electric vehicle production and the resurrection of vehicle assembly at General Motors' Oshawa, Ontario, factory.
Recently, however, the union has accused Dias of taking $50,000 from a maker of COVID-19 tests and pushing employers to buy the tests for use by members.
Coming on the heels of the UAW scandal that led to convictions of 16 people, including two former presidents, the accusations look like just the kind of story that undermines the struggling labor movement.
We will not speculate to what degree Dias' self-stated issues with painkillers, sleeping pills and alcohol to deal with a sciatic nerve issue influenced his judgment in relation to the allegation against him — he had professed neither guilt nor innocence as of press time. Nor do we know whether more allegations may follow.
What we do know is that recovery from substance abuse is a long and difficult process, and we wish Dias, who says he has entered rehabilitation, the best in what may be the most important battle of his life.
While the accusation, if proved, would tarnish his legacy as a labor leader, the episode appears to reveal a union where bad deeds are exposed, as they should be. The investigation, scheduled to include a hearing this month, should begin to yield some answers.
Unifor's next leader has big shoes to fill as the industry pushes ahead toward an uncertain electric future. Let's hope he or she does so effectively — and ethically.