Supporters of changing the way of selecting the United Auto Workers top officers appear to have won a decisive victory in the referendum supervised by the court-appointed monitor put in place to help the UAW emerge from a far-reaching corruption scandal.
With more than 84% of the votes counted, direct election of top officers carried 63% of vote while the continuation of existing provisions in the union constitution, which puts the selection of top officers in the hands of delegates to quadrennial convention, accounted for just 34 percent.
The change means the UAW’s current president Ray Curry, who took office July 1, will have to run for office in a direct election among the UAW’s active and retired members sometime next year. Curry was named president by the UAW’s executive board to fill the office after Rory Gamble retired before his term was complete.
Curry, who was recently cited for an ethics violation by the court-appointed monitor who referred the matter for disposition by the UAW internal ethics officer, became president after a tumultuous, two-year stretch in which two past UAW presidents, Dennis Williams and Gary Jones, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and embezzlement of union funds.
During his brief tenure as the union’s president, Jones orchestrated Curry’s selection as the UAW’s Secretary-Treasurer, the union’s number two officer.
Scandal led to pressure for change
When Jones quit under pressure from federal investigators preparing corruption charges against him. Gamble took over as UAW president, serving from December 2019 to July 2021 when he was replaced by Curry, who also was a member in good standing of the so-called “Administration Caucus,” which has held a tight grip on the union’s top offices since the late 1940s when it was first organized by Walter Reuther. While leaving, Gamble predicted Curry would be UAW President for the next nine years.
In the wake of the scandal, votes for change came from every corner of the union as support for the direct election of officers piled up among UAW members in traditional union strongholds in Flint, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio as well as around Detroit.
Workers at big Ford plants in Dearborn and Wayne, Michigan as well as Kansas City, Missouri and Louisville, Kentucky and among salaried workers at the Stellantis Technical Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan and the Jeep plants in Detroit all supported direct election.
Direct election wins broad support from auto workers and grad students
Direct election also was supported by graduate students from places such as University of California system as well as at Columbia and Harvard where contract disputes are underway.
UAW members working at General Motors plants in Flint, Michigan, Spring Hill, Tennessee, Fort Wayne, Indiana and Fairfax, Kansas all voted for changing the way the union’s top officers are selected. Reinforcing the message of broad dissatisfaction among union members, workers employed at least two of the John Deere plants, where the UAW recently struck for five weeks, also voted for change.
“The membership of our great union has made clear that they want to change the direction of the UAW and return to our glory days of fighting for our members. I am so proud of the UAW membership and their willingness to step up and vote for change” said Chris Budnick, member of UAW Local 862 Ford Louisville Plant and Recording Secretary for UAWD, a group pushing for reforms within the union.
The delegate system did pick up support among retired workers, who were targeted during the referendum campaign by the Administration Caucus, which, in the past, has successfully used the votes of retired members to foil change.
The referendum was the price the tainted Administration Caucus was forced to pay to settle racketeering charges from the U.S. Department of Justice, which followed on the heels of the corruption charges brought against a dozen union officers, including Williams and Jones.
The Justice Department argued changing the process for selecting the union’s top officers was the only way to bring serious change to the UAW.