Retirement at 65 is important to new generations of workers

Photo: Neil Moralee/Flickr

Sometimes, it's best to just get out of the way.

I recently attended the last United Auto Workers convention for Dennis Williams, who retired as president of the union. Williams, in my opinion, is articulate, determined and deeply principled.

We need more like him, but at age 65 Williams decided it was time for him to step aside and let the next generation of leadership take over. To me, it was the latest principled move by him, and made room for Gary Jones to be elected president.

With Jones as president, someone else will take his job, and someone else will take that person's job, and so on down the line until a new opportunity is created for a young worker.

Several decades ago, I can almost guarantee it, someone at de Havilland (now Bombardier) retired, creating a chain reaction that would open up a position in the plant where I would eventually get my first job. The time will come for me to retire, and I will, because it is the right thing to do -- both for young workers and for the strength of the labour movement.

In order for the labour movement to flourish -- or any business, agency or school, for that matter -- the current generation of leadership must work with the youth to ensure they are able to lead.

Mandatory retirement began to disappear more than 10 years ago as province after province voted to end the ability of employers to compel workers to retire when they turned 65, followed by the federal government in 2012.

Forcing people to retire at a certain age came to be seen as discrimination on the basis of age. If people wanted to work past age 65, the argument went, they should be allowed.

Quite rightly, labour leaders warned that getting rid of mandatory retirement would create a block to young workers entering the workforce. It was the right stand to take then, and it's the right stand to take now. The law may have changed, but our principles must not.

Workers should retire at age 65, if only to create a new job that a young worker can fill. I can promise that I will retire before I turn 65, just as my predecessors at the Canadian Auto Workers union -- Bob White, Buzz Hargrove and Ken Lewenza -- did before me.

I just hope I am not alone, and I am calling on labour leaders to lead this effort. No labour leader claiming to put the needs of young people first can do so with any legitimacy while also clinging to their jobs past the age of 65.

There are really only two reasons a labour leader does not retire by 65. They are either so arrogant that they think no one else can do their job, or they have not done the work needed to prepare the next generation to take over.

They may think they are keeping the labour movement strong by sticking around and continuing to lead on the basis of their experience, but the process of preparing future generation is what ultimately makes for a stronger union.

The same goes for any business, agency or school where the old guard refuses to leave.

Despite this, there are too many examples of labour leaders working well past the traditional retirement date, and even well into their 70s. We spend much of our time as labour leaders fighting for good pensions. It's hypocritical not to use them when we have the chance.

There is no excuse for this. If you are in your 70s, you come from a different era. It is time to retire, and let some new blood flow into the organization. Those refusing to retire are putting their own agenda and ambition ahead of the needs of young people, and in the process stifling the young leaders.

The labour movement is not alone in this. Corporate leaders also often work past retirement age, and in academia we have the unseemly situation of professors who refuse to retire, while young people are forced on strike for weeks in hopes of getting something approaching a stable teaching job.

Don't get me wrong. I love the work I do. I could not imagine doing anything else. When the time comes, however, I will do the right thing and retire, and open up a position for a young worker, with fresh ideas and fresh perspectives on the challenges we face.

Having spoken to so many committed and talented young people in my time as president, I know I will be leaving things in good hands.

Jerry Dias is the national president of Unifor. This story first appeared in the Huffington Post.

Photo: Neil Moralee/Flickr

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