CAW’s Lewenza, CEP’s Coles confirm retirements

Canadian Business Journal —

After five years as president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, Ken Lewenza confirmed he will in fact be stepping down as of the end of September. David Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, made the exact same announcement at the media conference Thursday afternoon at the Sheraton Centre in downtown Toronto.

The joint retirements by both leaders comes as the two large unions move towards a merger.  It was also confirmed at the media conference that both Lewenza and Coles will be endorsing Jerry Diaz to become the president of the amalgamated entity, which will be known as Unifor.  The combined membership will come in at about 300,000 – the largest single union in the country representing numerous sectors, including manufacturing, communications, transportation, healthcare and education.


Presidents Ken Lewenza, CAW, and David Coles, CEP.

“It is a dream team, led by Jerry Dias,” Coles stated. “It’s an absolute golden opportunity for myself and brother Lewenza to pass the torch.”

Lewenza in particular became very emotional at times, his eyes welling up and his voice cracking with emotion, when recalling how he managed to escape a minimum-wage job when he got his first break with Chrysler 41 years ago and has never looked back, saying he owes everything in his professional career to the union he has led for the past five years.  But he made it clear he had no interest in seeking the nomination to run the merged union.

“This is not a one-year, two-year project,” Lewenza noted. “This is a minimum three-or-four years. I’m going to be the best ambassador to the Unifor union that anyone can be.”

A full membership vote at the new union’s founding convention — at which members will vote on the proposed merger — takes place later this month.  Barring any unforeseen changes, it’s all but guaranteed Diaz will be the first president of Unifor.