First-ever popular vote: UAW election heads for presidential runoff
UAW headquarters in Detroit. | Courts Labor Union Report

DETROIT —The first-ever direct membership vote to elect top leaders in the United Auto Workers, mandated by a prior settlement with the federal government of corruption charges and scandal within the historic union, headed for a presidential runoff between incumbent Ray Curry and top challenger Shawn Fain at a January date to be determined.

Preliminary results released Dec. 2 showed Curry with 39,368 votes (38.2%) and Fain with 38,779 (37.6%). Three other anti-Curry challengers split the rest. Insurgents, now known by two names, Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAW-D) and UAW Members United, nominated Fain and a slate of board nominees. So did Curry. The other challengers did not.

Fain and the two groups hailed the overall picture, which also included the landslide win for UAW-D member Margaret Mock as Secretary-Treasurer. She beat Curry’s running mate Frank Stugin, 62%-38%. And UAW-D members won at least three contested seats on the union’s board and two contested vice-presidential posts.

All that represented a repudiation of the so-called Administrative Caucus, which has controlled most top UAW offices for approximately 70 years, Mock and the two groups said.

An Auto Workers local member in Michigan who’s well-wired into the union’s internal politics, but who asked not to be named because he has both Curry and UAW-D supporters in his local, called the results “a surprise and yet not a surprise.”

“A lot of people were not pleased with the direction the union was going,” he said.

“The runoff will be tough” for Curry, the wired-in worker added. “All those other candidates were opposing Curry, and Fain is a fighter.” There will also be a runoff in Region 9, which includes New York, and which has seen an influx of new and younger members as a result of UAW’s successful organizing drives on college campuses, he added.

“The people at the (last) convention supported Curry,” the worker added. “But when it came time for them to elect Curry and his slate, they couldn’t. And too many of the folks on the incumbent’s slate were identified with the folks” of the Administrative Caucus. “While they weren’t part of the scandal, they didn’t stop it.”

In a statement on the UAW website, Curry did not analyze the results. He welcomed the new board members and said a runoff date would be set. “Our members have spoken. We are confident all re-elected and newly elected UAW” board members “look forward to leading all of our sectors and membership with a vision of strengthening our great union.” he posted.

Administrative Caucus-named presidents and board members got the UAW into the bribery scandal which prompted the election, under terms of a consent decree UAW signed with the federal government. The decree prevented a federal trusteeship over the UAW, similar to the Republican George H.W. Bush administration’s trusteeship over the Teamsters.

Curry and his predecessor, Rory Gamble, were left to clean up the mess in the UAW, which saw two prior presidents, 10 other top officials, and the wife of one of them plead guilty to bribery and kickback charges and sent to jail under a federal consent decree the union signed. There were also fines and a federal election monitor. The union board evicted the wrongdoers.

The “victories show the membership is ready to rebuild our great union,” said Mock. “Companies should prepare for a new, more aggressive UAW.” Mock will be sworn in with other new board members on Dec. 17. She’ll be its first Black woman Secretary-Treasurer.

Fain said the results also repudiate the policies of prior presidents, which featured too much cooperation with management and not strong enough stand against two-tier wage systems and other corporate dictates.

“No matter what company our members work for, whether it’s the Big Three auto companies, Caterpillar, or the University of California system, we want to put every employer on notice: Prepare for a new, more aggressive UAW,” Fain said in a statement. “The cozy labor-management relationship is on its way to the dustbin of history.”

Mock, then a Local 961 health and safety rep, hit the same anti-corruption themes. When she blew the whistle to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration about job safety problems there, it was placed in OSHA’s severe violators program. “As a result, corrupt union leaders removed me, claiming I needed to be friendlier with management. I refused to be bullied or compromise my integrity!” she declared. She’s now a member of Local 140 at the Stellantis (FiatChrysler) truck plant in Warren, Ohio.

The UAW vote is also the second of two insurgent victories for president of big and influential unions in the past two years. Sean O’Brien of Teamsters Local 25 in Boston, an executive board member whom union President James Hoffa had more or less frozen out, handily beat Hoffa’s hand-picked successor in late 2020. So did his running mate for Secretary-Treasurer, Fred Zuckerman, who almost beat Hoffa four years before.

Gamble and Curry were left to clean up the mess in the UAW, which saw two prior presidents, 10 other top officials, and the wife of one of them plead guilty to bribery and kickback charges and sent to jail under a federal consent decree the union signed. There were also fines and a federal election monitor. Curry stressed the cleanup in his campaign material.

“I’m putting everything on the line to run because I am fed up,” responded Fain, an international rep and longtime activist in Local 1166 in the Kokomo (Ind.) Casting plant. “We need to restore Trust, Faith, Belief, and Pride in being a UAW member.” (His capitalization).

“For too long, the UAW has been led by corrupt leaders who care more about the company than the membership. This has led to plant closing after plant closing, and spin-off after spin-off. We must elect new leaders that will serve notice to the companies that we will strategically hit you where it hurts, and fight for our jobs. We must say NO to tiers and concessions across all sectors of the UAW.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.