CAW's Hargrove to step down amid industry crisis

Tue Jul 8, 2008 7:20pm EDT
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - After 16 years of fighting to hold the line on jobs and wages as head of the Canadian Auto Workers union, Basil "Buzz" Hargrove will step down in the midst of a deepening crisis engulfing the North American motor vehicle industry.

Hargrove, who has led the CAW -- Canada's biggest private-sector union -- since 1992, said on Tuesday he will retire after a vote is held to elect his successor. The vote will be held by September 15 at the latest.

Many had thought Hargrove would remain in his job until next March, when he will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65.

Hargrove told a news conference he is stepping down early to avoid a lengthy leadership campaign that could divide the union, which is already under threat from plant closures and a deteriorating relationship with key employer General Motors (GM.N: Quote).

Last month, GM said it would close its Oshawa, Ontario, truck plant, with the loss of as many as 2,600 jobs.

That announcement came fast on the heels of contract talks that many had considered a coup for Hargrove and the union. He had managed to complete contract agreements with the "big three" U.S. automakers months ahead of schedule and with fewer wage concessions than many had expected.

The union said it was double-crossed by GM on the Oshawa plant, but the company said it was forced to close the plant early because of a severe shift in the market for pick-up trucks and SUVs.

Hargrove said his final task as CAW head would be to try to resolve the dispute with GM.   Continued...

<p>Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) President Buzz Hargrove listens to a question while speaking with journalists following a meeting with Industry Minister Jim Prentice in Ottawa November 2, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>