UAW's New President?
While UAW leaders pick their favorite to be their next President, they face many challenges
After a tough year for the United Auto Workers (UAW) that saw them lose major organizing victories in the South, the union has begun to lay out its future with a slate of new leadership.
The UAW has unique rules for their leadership that requires the President to step down when they turn 65. With current President Dennis Williams turning 65 in 2018, the union will need to elect new leadership at their convention in June. On Thursday, local leaders from around the country held their UAW caucus to meet the candidates that want to run for President and issue their recommendation. While UAW delegates select the President at the Convention, over the last 70 years the person with the endorsement of the caucus has always won. This year, the UAW caucus decided to endorse Gary Jones who currently serves as the Director of Western and Southwestern states for the UAW. A certified public accountant, he previously served as the union’s top non-elected finance person.
As Williams term as President is ending, the new President faces a mixed bag of positives and challenges. Under Williams, UAW saw 7 consecutive years of membership increases as they expanded into new areas like higher education and gaming. He also oversaw the first member approved dues increase since 1967, which put the union on a more stable footing and helped increase the strike fund. With the union becoming better funded and more powerful, the UAW was able to successfully negotiate a wage increase at the big three automakers last year. While these accomplishments were great, the President will face some major challenges. The UAW has recently been dealt costly losses as they have tried to organize workers in the South. The new President will also be tasked with changing the union’s image following some investigations into allegations of corruption by previous board members.
The new leadership will also need to take a look at their declining political power. For years Midwest states voted for strong, pro-union elected officials and the UAW was seen as a leader in picking those officials, but in recent elections, more and more anti-union officials have been elected in states like Michigan and Wisconsin. In 2016, the UAW’s political program was damaged when Trump won Michigan and many commentators blamed union workers in the state.
With the strong endorsement of the UAW caucus, Jones will now spend the next few months winning over the delegates. While it is unlikely a challenger will defeat Jones, their elections are democratic so anyone could run for the position. It is clear though that whoever takes over will have a strong, growing union, but will need to make some important decisions about the future of the UAW.