CAW elect Ken Lewenza president

Sat Sep 6, 2008 2:34pm EDT
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By John McCrank

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian Auto Workers elected longtime union activist Ken Lewenza as its president on Saturday, bringing what outgoing President Buzz Hargrove has said is a change "more in style than substance."

Lewenza, 54, is expected to hold the union's tough line on issues like refusing concessions in contract talks, rejecting a two-tier system for wages, and lobbying the government on trade issues it sees as unfair.

The Windsor, Ontario, native has spent 14 years as president of the CAW Local 444 in Windsor, which many see as one of the most militant in Canada.

He had no competition in the race to head the union, which has seen its power ebb as automakers run into problems selling their larger cars and trucks in North America.

"It's incredible, the kind of popularity and the confidence he commands in the rank and file of the CAW, or with the workers in general," said Pradeep Kumar, professor emeritus at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

"He is a very, very charismatic kind of person."

The Canadian Auto Workers union is the country's largest private-sector union, with around 250,000 members in 17 different sectors of the economy, including some 60,000 in the auto industry.

That sector has been battered by layoffs and plant closures at the Canadian operations of U.S. automakers General Motors Corp (GM.N: Quote), Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote), and Chrysler LLC, owned by private equity group Cerberus Capital Management LP CBS.UL.   Continued...