New UAW president will face huge post-pandemic challenges

Jun 28, 2021, 8:22 AM | Updated: 7:51 pm

DETROIT (AP) — Ray Curry is taking over leadership of the United Auto Workers perhaps the most critical juncture in the union’s history.

The UAW’s International Executive Board on Monday named Curry, its secretary-treasurer, as union president, replacing Rory Gamble, who retires on Wednesday.

As soon as he takes over the 397,000-member union on Thursday, Curry will face extreme challenges in just about every direction. The UAW is coming out of a bribery and embezzlement scandal that sent two former presidents to prison, and it’s operating under a court-approved monitor who can veto financial decisions. Members are skeptical about their leadership.

There also are questions about safety protocols as the coronavirus pandemic wanes, and about shortages of critical parts such as computer chips that have crimped auto production by forcing plant shutdowns.

The auto industry, where most of the UAW’s highest-paid members work, is undergoing a seismic shift from internal-combustion to electric vehicles, placing thousands of jobs making gas-powered engines and transmissions in jeopardy.

Detroit automakers are forming joint ventures to set up new battery plants that the union will have to organize. And it will probably try to unionize new battery factories in the South. Since electric cars have fewer moving parts, automakers will need about 30% fewer workers to assemble them.

“I can’t even imagine a time with more change than we’re dealing with,” said Kristin Dziczek, senior vice president at the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If the union can’t organize Southern battery factories, it won’t be able to set wages in that business like it has done in auto manufacturing, she said.

Curry, 55, has only about a year to distance himself from the corruption and convince members he’ll get the union on track. Sometime before November, members will vote to decide whether they want to directly elect their leaders instead of the current system in which leadership is chosen by delegates to a convention. If they agree to direct elections, those will have to happen before June 30 of next year.

“This transition now gives Curry and this team a year basically before the convention to get a track record, to get some experience with the members about how they will lead,” Dziczek said.

In his statement Monday, Curry acknowledged the challenges and said the union can handle them.

“Industry is at a crossroads right now with massive changes in new innovative technologies,” he said. “It will be up to us to navigate through this monumental shift in mobility and manufacturing.”

Gamble was the union’s first Black president, and Curry will be the second. He will be replaced as secretary-treasurer by Frank Stuglin, 61, who now is director of a union region covering the Detroit area.

Curry, the union’s fourth president in three years, said he would continue to build on a commitment of transparency, reforms, and checks and balances in the wake of the scandal. He said he would work with Gamble to make the leadership transition smooth.

Eleven union officials and a late official’s spouse have pleaded guilty in the corruption probe since 2017, including the two presidents who served before Gamble, Gary Jones and Dennis Williams.

Matthew Schneider, the former U.S. Attorney in Detroit who led the investigation, said the corruption was so deep that the federal government may take over the union.

But Gamble agreed to financial safeguards and a court-appointed monitor to oversee operations for six years, as well as the election for members to decide if they want to vote directly for leaders.

Curry doesn’t come from the traditional leadership path that begins at one of the Detroit automakers. He joined the UAW in 1992 as an assembler at Freightliner Trucks in Mount Holly, North Carolina, and worked his way up to regional director in the South.

He negotiated new labor contracts with numerous auto parts makers, and helped to organize Freightliner factories in North Carolina, according to his biography on the union’s website. He also led the union’s move into casinos in 2015 when the UAW successfully organized workers at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore.

Curry was named secretary-treasurer at the union’s convention in 2018, replacing Jones, who became president. Earlier this month Jones was sentenced to 28 months in federal prison.

Curry’s background of organizing and knowledge of the South could be plusses for the union, Dziczek said. Although it has had trouble organizing Volkswagen and Nissan factories in the South, under Curry it has had success in unionizing parts suppliers and heavy-truck factories, she said.

Curry has been the top union official involved in a long-running strike by 3,000 workers at a Volvo truck plant in southwest Virginia. Workers have twice rejected six-year tentative agreements negotiated by their leaders and returned to the picket lines in early June.

Dziczek said the nation is now in a post-pandemic “take-this-job-and-shove-it” mentality, with workers changing or leaving their jobs. This could work to the union’s advantage in organizing, she said.

The executive board also picked Chuck Browning, director of another Detroit-area region, to become vice president. He’s likely to replace Gerald Kariem, who stepped down as the vice president dealing with Ford Motor Co.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The Lost Mural hangs in the entryway of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, in Burlington, Vt., July 29, 2022. T...
Associated Press

Long-hidden synagogue mural gets rehabbed, relocated

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A mural that was painted in a Vermont synagogue more than 100 years ago by a Lithuanian immigrant — and hidden behind a wall for years– has been termed a rare piece of art and has been painstakingly moved and restored. The large colorful triptych painted by sign painter Ben Zion […]
23 hours ago
FILE - In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, a missile is fired during a joint tr...
Associated Press

US, South Korea to begin expanded military drills next week

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The United States and South Korea will begin their biggest combined military training in years next week in the face of an increasingly aggressive North Korea, which has been ramping up weapons tests and threats of nuclear conflict against Seoul and Washington, the South’s military said Tuesday. The allies’ summertime […]
23 hours ago
Wilbur Slockish Jr., a river chief of the Klickitat Band of the Yakama Nation, looks at petroglyphs...
Associated Press

River chief imprisoned for fishing fights for sacred rights

THE DALLES, Oregon (AP) — Wilbur Slockish Jr. has been shot at, had rocks hurled at him. He hid underground for months, and then spent 20 months serving time in federal prisons across the country — all of that for fishing in the Columbia River. But Slockish, a traditional river chief of the Klickitat Band […]
23 hours ago
FILE - Visitors view the dramatic bend in the Colorado River at the popular Horseshoe Bend in Glen ...
Associated Press

Colorado River cuts expected for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The federal government on Tuesday is expected to announce water cuts to states that rely on the Colorado River as drought and climate change leave less water flowing through the river and deplete the reservoirs that store it. The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people across seven states […]
23 hours ago
Water rushes through Lyle Falls in the Klickitat River, a tributary that runs into the Columbia Riv...
Associated Press

Columbia River’s salmon are at the core of ancient religion

ALONG THE COLUMBIA RIVER (AP) — James Kiona stands on a rocky ledge overlooking Lyle Falls where the water froths and rushes through steep canyon walls just before merging with the Columbia River. His silvery ponytail flutters in the wind, and a string of eagle claws adorns his neck. Kiona has fished for Chinook salmon […]
23 hours ago
FILE - In this June 7, 2021 file photo, The Federal Hall statue of George Washington overlooks the ...
Associated Press

Companies facing first tax on stock buybacks in Biden bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats have pulled off a quiet first in their just-passed legislation addressing climate change and health care: the creation of a tax on stock buybacks, a cherished tool of Corporate America that had long seemed untouchable. Under the bill President Joe Biden is scheduled to sign into law Tuesday, companies will face […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
New UAW president will face huge post-pandemic challenges