Cablegate: Canadian Auto Workers Union Gets New Leader

DE RUEHON #0227 1971700
R 151700Z JUL 08


State for WHA/CAN, DRL/AWH and INR/B
State pass USTR for Mary Sullivan
USDOC for 4320/Office of NAFTA/GWord/TFox
Department of Labor for ILAB

E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Canadian Auto Workers Union Gets New Leader

Ref: (A) Toronto 123 (B) Toronto 175

Sensitive But Unclassified - Please Protect Accordingly.

1. (U) SUMMARY: Ken Lewenza, current president of the CAW shop in
Windsor, has been formally endorsed by the Canadian Auto Workers
(CAW) executive board, by other senior officers and staff, and most
importantly by outgoing President Buzz Hargrove to replace Hargrove,
who has announced that he will retire before September 15.
Lewenza's official confirmation as CAW leader will occur at a
special convention of the 250,000-member union in the next two
months. END SUMMARY.

The Presumptive Future Leader

2. (U) Ken Lewenza was born in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in
1955, and was raised primarily in a housing project in the city's
west side. He attended a local high school until grade 10, when he
withdrew to work at a local gas station. Lewenza's father, Bill
Lewenza, was a longtime steward and committeeman of CAW Local 444 in
Windsor. Lewenza is now divorced and has two sons. His eldest son,
Ken Lewenza Jr., is a Windsor city councilor. Lewenza started at
Chrysler Corporation in 1972, where he became a member of the local
CAW union. Lewenza advanced quickly through the ranks of the union,
while holding many in-plant and local executive positions. Lewenza
became president of the CAW Local in Windsor in 1991, representing
union members from a diverse range of employment sectors including
auto parts manufacturers and casinos. Lewenza chaired the Chrysler
Canada national bargaining committee, and served as the union's
chief negotiator. He also served on the union's national executive

3. (U) On July 3, Lewenza announced his intention to seek the
presidency of the CAW, replacing the retiring Hargrove. In the
following days, Hargrove, as well as the national executive board of
the union, endorsed Lewenza. The other declared candidates for the
position, Hemi Mitic and Tom Collins, both assistants to Hargrove,
withdrew from the race after failing to receive an official
endorsement. The board and senior officers also announced their
support for Peter Kennedy to replace current secretary-treasurer Jim
O'Neil when he retires in 2009. The recommendation from the CAW
executive board should secure the presidency for Lewenza, although
the official outcome will be determined by some 800 delegates who
will attend the CAW convention. The CAW leadership's unanimous
support for Lewenza disappointed many union activists, who were
anticipating a contested campaign. In the aftermath of the
endorsement, several union members claimed that senior leaders
pressured them to support Lewenza and Kennedy.

4. (U) Approximately 20,000 jobs have been eliminated in Canada's
auto sector since 2000, many of which were held by CAW members.
Ontario's competitive advantage in the industry continues to
diminish, as the region struggles to retain its auto manufacturing
jobs despite high production costs (ref A). Union members remain
concerned about the ongoing battle with General Motors over the
planned closure of the Oshawa truck plant, which will result in the
loss of thousands more manufacturing jobs (ref B). Lewenza recently
rejected suggestions that it would be necessary for the next CAW
leader to become more flexible in the union's negotiations.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: Observers and auto industry analysts suggest
Lewenza shares Buzz Hargrove's leadership and negotiation style, and
will pursue many of the same goals. Lewenza has publically endorsed
Hargrove's refusal to compromise during negotiations with the
Detroit "Big Three" auto manufacturers, stating he would never make
the kinds of wage and benefit concessions agreed to by the U.S.
United Auto Workers union. Lewenza also stated that he planned to
continue with the major policies developed under Hargrove's
leadership. Lewenza will assume the CAW presidency at a crucial
time. The rapid decline of consumer demand and of the manufacturing
sector in North America will pose significant challenges for the
union, whose influence in the auto industry has decreased
significantly in recent years. It is unlikely that Lewenza will be
able to remain inflexible on negotiations, as he faces increasing
industry demands for wage concessions and heightened pressure from
union members to protect Ontario's remaining auto jobs. END


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