The new president of the Canadian Auto Workers union wants to establish a closer relationship with the United Auto Workers, saying the two auto unions have much in common and would be stronger if they were able to find some ways to work together.

Ken Lewenza, who takes over the leadership from Buzz Hargrove, retiring this month after 16 years as president, wants to reach out to UAW president Ron Gettelfinger.

"I'm going to find an opportunity to meet with Ron Gettelfinger and see if there's a way that we can build a coalition of ideas," said Lewenza, a 54-year-old from Windsor, Ontario.

He had been chairman of the CAW's Chrysler bargaining committee and president of its big local [branch] 444 in Windsor, which represents workers at a large Chrysler minivan plant, several auto parts companies, a casino and other workplaces.

Lewenza acknowledged that the UAW has been in crisis mode in recent years dealing with tens of thousands of job cuts and dozens of plant closings by the Detroit Three.

The CAW split off from the UAW during the 1980s, but the two unions now face the same issues of job cuts, plant closings and pressure on wages and benefits as Chrysler, Ford and General Motors throttle back production in response to years of declining market share in the United States and Canada.

"Not to try to open up the lines of communication would be a mistake," Lewenza said. "They are facing the same problems we are facing - a domestic industry in significant decline and pressures coming from all over, legislatively, politically and through collective bargaining."

He pointed to the most recent rounds of negotiations with the Detroit Three as an example of where the unions could have worked together.

The UAW agreed to permanent two-tiered wages and benefit structures for newly hired workers in contracts they signed with the car companies last year.

The CAW refused that demand. Instead, in bargaining this year, it agreed to allow the companies to pay 70% of wages for newly hired workers in their first year, but insisted on increases after that which will push those workers to full wages after three years of employment.

"If there was a consultation process where we actually trusted each other's judgement, could we have influenced (the UAW) to go to the 70% over a longer period of time?" Lewenza asked.