UAW Presidential Race Too Close to Call

March 3, 2023 | Industry News

With more than 70% of votes counted, challenger Shawn Fain was clinging to a narrow lead in the runoff for presidency of the United Auto Workers. 

UAW President Ray Curry, top left, is trailing Shawn Fain, bottom right, as the vote count headed into the weekend.

However, Ray Curry, the UAW’s current president is only a few hundred votes behind, and observers are now predicting a photo finish in which “challenged” ballots could decide the final outcome of the race for president.

Election set up by consent decree

The contest between Fain and Curry was set up by the consent decree the UAW executive board signed after a corruption scandal sent more than a dozen UAW officers, including two past presidents, to prison. 

The consent decree, which settled a racketeering suit brought against the union by the U.S. Department of Justice, set in a motion a process to amend the UAW constitution to allow for the direct election of top officers. 

Until now, the union presidency had been filled by delegates to the union’s constitutional convention. The current election is being run under the supervision of the court-appointed monitor financed by the UAW.

The recent issues involving corruption with the top leaders at the UAW caught up with the Administration Caucus as the reform-minded candidates claimed a slew of victories.

Who supports whom

Fain has drawn support from across the union, winning among graduate students on the East and West Coast as well as industrial workers throughout the Midwest by auto suppliers, builders of heavy equipment and auto workers employed by Stellantis and General Motors.

However, Curry, who won the first round last fall by about 600 votes but failed to muster a 50% majority in a race with five candidates, has countered by picking up support among union members employed by the Ford Motor Co.

Curry has the support of the administration caucus, which has controlled the UAW’s inner workings for nearly 80 years and many of the top officers in key Ford locals continue to support the administration caucus despite the damage done to the union’s reputation by the scandal.

With the auto industry in the midst of a major upheaval, the local union officers appeared to vote for Curry and his cautions approach to negotiations rather than the Fain, who has vowed to make the union more militant in confrontations.

Curry won two thirds of the votes in UAW Region 1A, which includes the Ford Rouge Complex and the Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, and Livonia Transmission plant in Livonia, Michigan, both suburbs of Detroit. Curry also easily carried by Ford engine plant in Brook Park, Ohio, just outside Cleveland even though the rest of UAW Region 2B, which covers Ohio and Indiana, broke decisively for Fain, according to the unofficial vote tallies posted by the candidates.

UAW President Ray Curry is the first incumbent to run in the new election process established by the court-appointed monitor.

Reformers gain seat

The reform slate headed by Fain did gain another seat on the UAW’s executive board during the runoff election.

Daniel Vicente, a local union officer from UAW Local 644 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania who is employed as a machine operator at Dometic, was elected director UAW Region 9 covering western New York and Pennsylvania, on a platform advocating for restoring militancy to the UAW. 

“I am deeply honored to have been elected to serve the members of our union. From the hundreds of conversations, I’ve had with rank-and-file members across Region 9, it is clear there is a deep hunger for change and for fighting to win back what we’ve given away to the companies. A new day is dawning for the UAW and the working class,” Vicente said following his election.

Five reformers and an independent candidate supporting reform won seats on the executive board last fall.

But the board is now divided almost evenly between reformers and the scandal-scarred old guard. The stress created by the division are likely to complicate the union approach to the critical negotiations for new contracts with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

The stress is already evident around the idling of Stellantis plant in Belvedere, Illinois where reformers say Curry has not done enough to challenge the company’s plans to close the plant.

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