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Fain elected to hold UAW reins

New union president vows a more confrontational stance by TOM KRISHER The Associated Press | March 27, 2023 at 5:22 a.m.
In a frame grab from video, United Auto Workers presidential candidate Shawn Fain is interviewed, Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, in Detroit. The vote count in the election to decide the United Auto Workers' top leader should come to an end Thursday. Challenger Fain leads incumbent Ray Curry, but they're still counting challenged ballots that could change the outcome. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

DETROIT -- A challenger defeated the president of the United Auto Workers in a close election and vowed Saturday to take a more confrontational stance in negotiating with the big automakers.

A court-appointed monitor declared challenger Shawn Fain the winner over incumbent Ray Curry. Fain's slate of candidates won control of the big union as workers rejected most incumbents after a bribery and embezzlement scandal.

It was the 372,000-member union's first direct election of its 14-member International Executive Board, which followed the wide-ranging scandal that landed two former presidents in prison.

The vote count had been going on since March 1, and the outcome was uncertain going into Saturday because of challenges against several hundred ballots.

Curry had filed a protest alleging election irregularities and campaign-financing violations, but he conceded Saturday and said Fain would be sworn in on Sunday.

Fain said members clearly wanted the union to become more aggressive in dealing with the automakers.

"Today we put the companies on notice the fighting UAW is back," Fain said in a video.

Fain vowed to end two-tiered contracts that provide lower pay and fewer benefits for some workers. He said the UAW will fight against factory closures that result in lost union jobs.

"We've seen plant after plant close without any serious fight from our union," he said. "We've lost 40% of our active membership over the past 20 years. That ends here."

Fain, 54, also promised to clean up the union.

Now an administrator with the international union in Detroit, Fain had 69,459 votes, or 50.2%, while Curry had 68,976 votes, or 49.8%, according to an unofficial tally as the counting neared completion.

Earlier, Curry had asked court-appointed monitor Neil Barofsky to hold another runoff election because of the alleged irregularities, but Barofsky denied the request.

Fain's UAW Members United slate now holds seven of 14 seats on the board, with one independent member siding with his slate. The Curry Solidarity Team slate has six board members. Four of five top officers are from Fain's slate, including the secretary-treasurer and two of three vice presidents.

The new leadership will have to move quickly to gear up for what are expected to be contentious contract talks coming up this summer with Detroit's three automakers, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

Many in the industry expect strikes against the companies by the union.

Fain will have little time to prepare for the union's bargaining convention, which is scheduled to start today in Detroit. Delegates to the convention decide what the union will want in upcoming contract talks.

In the past, contracts with the Detroit Three set the standard for manufacturing wages nationwide. In his statement, Fain said he wants to return to the union setting the wage and benefit standard for other sectors of the economy.

Fain and his slate will have to deal with member demands to restore concessions made when the automakers were headed into financial trouble starting in 2007. Many want cost-of-living pay raises, general raises, defined-benefit pensions for all workers and eliminating tiers of workers so they all get the same pay and benefits.

Automakers prefer annual profit-sharing checks instead of raises so they pay workers when times are good and can cut expenses during economic downturns.

In a February draft of a transition plan, Fain wrote about a big shakeup coming in his first 30 days in office. Jobs will change and new things will be expected of workers, some of whom will leave, it said.

"Everything we do, at every stage, must be reinforcing the message: there is a new sheriff in town," Fain's memo said.

The memo talks about a campaign to prepare workers for strikes.

Mike Booth, one of the new vice presidents, said the automakers are starting to argue that they are financially strapped because they have to fund the development of new electric vehicles. "You can't develop an electric vehicle product on the backs of UAW members," he said.

Strikes are possible as the union pushes to organize joint-venture battery plants being built by the companies and to reverse a Stellantis decision to begin closing a plant in Belvidere, Ill. Under Curry's leadership for nearly the past two years, the UAW has taken a more aggressive stance in labor talks, having gone on strike against Volvo Trucks, John Deere, the University of California and CNHI, a maker of agricultural and construction equipment.

Information for this article was contributed by Adrian Sainz and David Koenig of The Associated Press.

  photo  File - United Auto Workers President Ray Curry speaks during an interview, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Detroit. The vote count in the election to decide the United Auto Workers' top leader should come to an end Thursday. Challenger Shawn Fain leads incumbent Curry, but they're still counting challenged ballots that could change the outcome. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Print Headline: Fain elected to hold UAW reins


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