CAW's Lewenza front-runner for top union job

Tue Jul 8, 2008 5:48pm EDT
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Auto Workers union executives endorsed local leader Ken Lewenza for the job of national president on Tuesday, while his opponents dropped out of the race, clearing the way for him to replace outgoing head Buzz Hargrove.

Lewenza has spent the last 14 years as president of CAW Local 444, which includes the Chrysler minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario.

He will still face a vote by members at the union's constitutional convention later this summer, but likely no opposition after his two main rivals, Hemi Mitic and Tom Collins, dropped out of the race following the executive vote.

"I'm proud to announce that Ken Lewenza is the candidate," Hargrove said at a press conference.

The CAW represents more than 250,000 workers across several industry groups, including about 60,000 in the auto sector.

The change of command comes as the union has been battered by layoffs and plant closures at the Canadian operations of U.S. automakers General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler LLC, which is owned by private equity group Cerberus Capital Management.

Under Hargrove the CAW often took public stances on government policy and elections, and Lewenza gave no indication that would change under his leadership.

"We are a workers' institution and we believe that the public profile that the union has, quite frankly, is part of the culture of our union," he said.   Continued...