toyotauniforThe origin of the Toyota campaign was different than most other large scale union organizing efforts.

The first cards that came in from Toyota in 2012 were actually bulletins from the human resources departments about the latest cut to benefits, on which industrious Toyota team members had photocopied a CAW membership card on the back.

At the time, union organizers were focused on efforts elsewhere, and the sudden interest by Toyota workers came as a surprise to the union. Two previous unionization campaigns at Toyota had failed – once with CAW and the next with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

But Toyota team members started making their own cards, photocopying leftover cards from the last campaign onto the back of Toyota human resources bulletins, driving home the point that they were not happy with Toyota arbitrarily changing things.

“These self-motivated cards just kept coming in,” said organizer Bob Van Cleef. “We were really amazed to see this.”

Team members even started phoning then CAW President Ken Lewenza and Organizing Director John Aman, saying they wanted another run at unionizing.

The company was taking its cues from the Detroit Three, which were taking a hard line in its contract talks at the time. Despite being very profitable and in much stronger financial shape, Toyota was using the turmoil in the auto industry as an excuse to make cuts at its own plants.

With team members calling regularly asking for help, and the homemade cards coming in, a couple of meetings were held at the CAW union hall in Woodstock to gauge interest, followed by a few leafleting days outside the plants.

“The response was amazing,” says Van Cleef. “People started thanking us for being there.”

For the organizers, that was the turning point when they were convinced an organizing drive at Toyota could work. They convinced national union leaders to start up an organizing campaign at Toyota in both Cambridge and Woodstock.

Things moved slowly but steadily until September, when three things happened to kick the campaign into high gear: Unifor was founded, giving the union unprecedented publicity and an updated image; Unifor National President Jerry Dias went to Kitchener to meet team members, motivating them to step up the push; and Unifor Local 88 signed a deal at CAMI that made contracts permanent – which is one of a few priority issues for Toyota workers.

Since then, the campaign has been in high gear. Unifor is working around the clock on this campaign now, but it’s worth remembering that it all began with team members making their own cards – on the back of HR bulletins, no less.