With a critical year looming ahead, the United Auto Workers officially seated new members of its executive board as it prepares for a runoff election to decide the winners for three other seats, including the union presidency.
The new executive board includes a block of six reformers, including five from the “Members United” slate and one independent, who vow to push the union to rebuild in the wake of a scandal. The offenses cost the union its reputation for probity and integrity. The new slate promises to listen and act on the everyday concerns of members and retirees.
Ray Curry, the union’s current president, will remain in office until his runoff against his challenger, Shawn Fain, the head of the Members United slate. During the fall campaign, union members were given a chance to vote directly for the UAW’s top officers for the first time in the organization’s history. The direct vote shattered precedent by breaking the grip the administrative caucus enjoyed on the UAW’s top offices.
Runoff elections set
Not only will Curry and Fain face off during the runoff for the UAW presidency but two candidates, aligned with the union’s old guard with fight it out for the one remaining vice presidency. Chuck Browning, the current head of the UAW’s Ford Department is favored over Tim Bressler, who finished fourth during the first round of voting.
Dan Vincente, a candidate from “Members United,” is facing Lauren Farrell in the contest for Regional Director in UAW Region 9 in the Northeastern U.S. Vincente led during first round but fell short of the 50% threshold required for election.
Ballots for the runoff election will be mailed out to active members and retirees, starting Jan. 12. Union members and retirees have until Dec. 16 to ensure the union has their correct address. Ballots must be returned by the end of February. Votes will be counted the first week of March.
During the first round there were complaints from members they never got their ballots, and during a hearing held before Thanksgiving in federal court U.S. District Judge David Lawson quizzed lawyers for the UAW and the court-appointed Monitor about the lists but declined to halt the election for 30 days as one of the candidates, Will Lehman, requested.
Lehman argued many union members were disenfranchised because they did not receive their ballots. In addition, the union failed to notify UAW members were underway. So far, the complaints have not gone anywhere.
Preparing for negotiation, EV business
Meanwhile, the UAW also must begin preparations for contract negotiations with Detroit’s three automakers. Successful reform candidates for Vice President, Rich Boyer and Mike Booth, will lead the negotiations at General Motors and Stellantis. Boyer was put in charge of the union’s Stellantis Department and bargaining team this week, while Booth took over the GM department and bargaining team.
Talks at Stellantis are already being influenced by the company’s decision to idle an assembly plant in Belvidere. Illinois, Feb. 28. While Stellantis says Belvidere plant is only being idled and is active consideration for re-use, a similar decision by General Motors involving an assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, contributed to the 40-day strike at GM during the 2019 negotiations.
With the union’s old guard no longer in control, the bargaining convention also is expected to adopt a set of tougher resolutions when it lays out the union’s bargaining position, which include a harsh critique of the UAW’s stance, which tilted towards cooperation with employers.
Shawn Fain also said during an exchange on social media also said on another key issue, “There is no place for a (two-tier structure) in our union. 90 days to full time, the temporary employment period should be to evaluate the employee, not to screw an employee for less money, benefits and to circumvent the contract. There are and have been shifts of temps. Working 7 days a week 12 hours a day, which is not temporary work and there is no excuse for the abuse! We must bargain to address the issue.”
Until now, the administrations of Curry and his predecessors accepted two-tier wage schedules even though they were widely detested by union members, particularly younger members.
But the UAW’s active membership is changing, and the union’s leadership is getting younger. The emphasis on pensions is more likely to be overshadowed by concerns about any tentative contracts day-to-day economics, according to Harley Shaiken, a labor expert from the University of California-Berkley.
The UAW got a boost earlier this month when it organized workers at the new Ultium Cells battery plant in Lordstown. The union easily triumphed in the elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board after GM, one of the partners in Ultium, offered no opposition to the unionization drive. GM Chair Mary Barra said she welcomed the union.
GM’s is expected to remain neutral when the UAW moves to organize workers at new battery plants in Spring Hill, Tennessee and outside Lansing, Michigan.
The UAW expects no less from Ford and Stellantis now the precedent has been set at GM.
At the same time, the academic workers the UAW has recruited over the years are making their presence felt in the union’s leadership for the first time, and say they want the union to be more aggressive in pushing to organize the emerging electric vehicle industry.
Fain said recently one of the keys to organizing non-union plants is better contracts for its members. That is the way the UAW wins elections, he said.