TORONTO -- Jerry Dias, a veteran of the Canadian Auto Workers, is the first president of the new Unifor union.

Dias, assistant to the CAW national president, was chosen Saturday at the founding convention of Unifor, a merger of the CAW and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.

The current heads of the two unions opted out of the race to head Unifor, which becomes the largest private sector union in Canada.

More than 4,000 people have gathered in Toronto this weekend for the new union's founding convention.

CAW national president Ken Lewenza and CEP president Dave Coles say they believe the organization needs fresh leadership.

They also stress the need for a broader, more diverse membership.

"This convention is about all workers across this country, especially those workers who work in precarious employment, who are abused by their employers, who fail to make a decent living because their bosses are jamming the profits of their corporations and companies into their pockets," Coles told union members in a speech Saturday.

The union will initially represent more than 300,000 workers across roughly 20 sectors of the economy, primarily in manufacturing, communications and transportation.

It will also represent some public sector employees in the health, education and transit sectors.

"We recognize that we are speaking for 300,000 members... but in today's deliberations we are talking about 30 million Canadians, Canadians with the right to universal health care, the right to child care and the right to good public services," Lewenza said.

The CEP and CAW voted last year to join forces, a move they hope will boost the national labour movement.

Officials have said the switch to a non-traditional name -- one that goes beyond simply listing occupations or industries -- signals the union is looking to branch out.