By Jonah Furman / Labor Notes
Auto Workers (UAW) members made history last November, winning direct elections of national officers (“one member, one vote”) in a membership referendum. Now delegates are headed to a Constitutional Convention where candidates will be nominated for the top slots.
The whole process will put to the test whether reformers can break the iron grip of the Administration Caucus, the one party that has ruled the union for 70 years.
Winning direct elections was the first hurdle. The next, formidable hurdles are: Will a credible slate of challengers form? Will a majority of members vote for change? And can new leaders and constitutional changes turn things around for the UAW?
The election will cover 14 positions: president, secretary-treasurer, three vice presidents (traditionally assigned to each of the Big Three automakers: General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, formerly Chrysler), plus nine regional directors. The Justice Department’s appointed monitor released election rules May 11.
Candidates will be nominated at the convention, July 25 to 28. Ballots will be mailed October 17 and counted November 29.
The road to the referendum was paved with corruption: officials embezzling and misusing funds and taking bribes from an employer. Many auto workers are frustrated at years of contract concessions that have allowed automakers to build a two-tier workforce, with the number of temporary and lower-paid workers ballooning.
The reform group Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD) has put forward a platform for delegate candidates with the motto, “No Corruption. No Tiers. No Concessions!” Dozens of UAWD members have been elected delegates by their locals on this platform.
UAWD has also built a slate, though the group’s steering committee is still considering additional endorsements. More details on its candidates are below.
A majority of convention delegates will be products of the UAW’s entrenched system and culture, though UAWD will be a notable presence. The reformers’ goal is to convince fellow delegates that their union is best served by the reform spirit shown by members in the referendum last year.
UAWD is putting forward eight resolutions. One is a constitutional amendment to ban the practice of negotiating tiers in contracts. Another calls for the union to hire 100 new organizers to carry out an aggressive organizing strategy in the growing electric vehicle industry.
Another resolution calls for fighting discrimination by pushing to hire more women and people of color into skilled trades positions and instituting more union-led education to reinforce the principle “an injury to one is an injury to all.”
Another UAWD resolution would have called for strike pay to be increased from $275 a week to $400. On June 7, however, the UAW Executive Board announced that it was adopting this increase in advance of the convention—a sign that the incumbents are trying to get out in front of the opposition on this issue.
At least 24 locals representing 180,000 members had voted to back the increase in strike pay, including some of the largest auto locals and two John Deere locals.
UAWD is still pushing for strike pay to be paid starting on the first day of a strike, rather than the eighth; the Teamsters adopted a similar resolution at their convention last year.
Any resolutions not formally recommended by one of the constitutional committees (which UAWD’s resolutions are not likely to be) needs 15 percent of the delegates’ support to be brought to the floor, and a majority of the delegates’ votes to pass.
The Administration Caucus has a full slate of 14, eight of whom currently hold office, including President Ray Curry, Secretary-Treasurer Frank Stuglin, and Vice President Chuck Browning.
The challengers for president who have publicly announced are Shawn Fain, an international representative originally out of Local 1166 who is breaking with the Administration Caucus; Brian Keller of Local 1248 in Warren, Michigan, who runs the popular “UAW Real Talk” page on Facebook; Will Lehman, a member of Local 677; and two retirees, former international rep John Guinan and former international rep and Local 1200 President Jim Coakley.
Rich Boyer, former president of Local 961 at Chrysler’s Detroit Axle plant, is running for Stellantis vice president on a slate with Guinan.
However, it’s still up in the air whether Guinan and Coakley are eligible to run. In May, the monitor ruled that the constitution was silent on whether retirees were eligible to hold top office, so the current president could decide. Curry then ruled retirees ineligible, disqualifying two of his three opponents. Their supporters hope to put the question to the convention itself.
Fain is running on a UAWD-backed slate, UAW Members United, with Margaret Mock, former shop chair in Local 961, for secretary-treasurer, and LaShawn English, president of Local 1264 at the Stellantis Stamping Plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, for Region 1 director. UAWD is still considering other endorsements.
A candidate who’s not part of any slate is former Lordstown General Motors local president Dave Green for Region 2B director. Green prominently fought the closing of the Lordstown plant in 2018, attracting the ire of Donald Trump, and ran an unsuccessful bid for regional director in 2020.
Daniel Vicente, recording secretary of Local 644 at Dometic, is running for Region 9 Director, and seeking UAWD’s endorsement. In a statement, Vicente said, “Honestly, I’m a husband and father of four from the shop floor, tired of complaining about leadership. Change is coming for our union.”