President Is Ousted in United Auto Workers Election


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For decades after its founding in 1935, the U.A.W. had the power to influence presidential elections and consistently won middle-class wages and benefits that set the standard for workers in many industries across the country. At its peak, in 1979, it had 1.5 million members.

But the U.A.W.’s membership and influence steadily declined as the Detroit automakers faced increasing competition from Toyota and other foreign automakers that were building nonunion plants across the South. As those rivals gained a greater foothold, the American companies reduced their payrolls and shut factories.

The 2009 bankruptcy filings by G.M. and Chrysler — which is now part of Stellantis — forced the union into major concessions, including a wage system that left newcomers earning substantially less than veteran workers.

While diminished, the U.A.W. still has influence. “The union can still turn out voters in critical states like Michigan and Ohio and other states that can determine a presidential election,” Professor Shaiken said.

The U.A.W. now has about 400,000 active members, including college teaching assistants and casino workers as well as auto manufacturing workers. Both active members and the union’s 600,000 retirees were eligible to vote in the elections.

For the last several years the U.A.W. has been reeling from a federal corruption investigation that eventually found a number of schemes in which senior officials embezzled millions of dollars from union coffers. They spent some of the money on expensive cigars, wines, liquor, golf clubs, apparel and luxury travel.

In total, federal investigators found that $1.5 million had been siphoned from membership dues, and $3.5 million from union training centers. More than a dozen U.A.W. officials pleaded guilty, and two former presidents, Gary Jones and Dennis Williams, were sentenced to prison. Each was released after serving nine months.

As part of a consent decree settling the investigation, the U.S. District Court in Detroit appointed an outside monitor to oversee the implementation of democratic and transparency reforms. One of the mandated reforms was a one-person-one-vote election.


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