UAW Votes Out Establishment Leadership, Shawn Fain Becomes New Prez

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Over the weekend, Shawn Fain was declared the winner over incumbent Ray Curry in the United Auto Workers’ presidential runoff election. While the race was tight, and the results had to be delayed so a federally appointed monitor to examine some 1,600 challenged ballots, members effectively voted out the Reuther Administrative Caucus which has controlled the union for decades.

The outcome is undoubtedly the result of the high-profile and long-running corruption scandal that saw several former union leaders and a few humiliated automotive executives being sent to prison. In fact, the federal government actually agreed to allow the UAW to change its voting protocols in response to issues brought to light as part of the related court cases. But the more significant factor seems to be the collective ire of disenfranchised laborers.

Ahead of the presidential race regional members had come out in favor of anyone they saw as running against the establishment. Many voters had said they were dismayed by long-standing bribery schemes and did not feel like they had been accurately represented by union leadership in years. Fain played to this by making it the central component of his entire campaign and he revisited the topic during a statement issued on Saturday.

"This election was not just a race between two candidates, it was a referendum on the direction of the UAW. For too long, the UAW has been controlled by leadership with a top-down, company union philosophy who have been unwilling to confront management, and as a result we’ve seen nothing but concessions, corruption and plant closures,” he explained. “While the election was close, it is clear that our membership has long wanted to see a more aggressive approach with our employers. We now have a historic opportunity to get back to setting the standard across all sectors, and to transform the UAW into a member-led, fighting union once again, and we are going to take it. The future of the working class is at stake.”

It was indeed close.

As part of the UAW Members United slate, Fain was only leading by 645 votes in the runoff election by March 4th. Ballot counting had begun in Dayton, Ohio, at the start of the month, but it needed to be paused after roughly 1,600 examples were challenged over member standing. Curry’s camp then filed a protest with the federal monitor, arguing that numerous issues had called the whole election “into question and [required an] immediate investigation."

The monitor later confirmed that Curry’s team had asked to have the entire count halted and the ballots cast out so that another runoff election could take place. Claims were made about thousands of ballots being returned to the UAW as undeliverable and questions were raised about whether the monitor had done everything possible to ensure the ballots of all members in good standing were counted. The legitimacy of Fain’s candidacy was also called into question over assertions that some of his donors were tied to businesses that the UAW actively negotiated with.

Similar doubts applied not just to the national election but also to Daniel Vicente's victory as director of Region 9 – which covers New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Curry alleged that Vicente had not paid union dues within the allotted time frame to be considered a valid candidate.

Clearing ballots for eligibility was done manually, required that they be transported from Ohio to Michigan, and stalled the final election count for two full weeks. But that still didn’t settle the matter of who would become president, as the election was reportedly too close to call on March 16th. Grievances issued by Curry would have further delayed the outcome – creating trouble for fast-approaching contract negotiations with Detroit automakers. However, the monitor dismissed most of the claims camp Curry had made against Fain.

Former UAW President Bob King even went out of his way to ask the monitor, Neil Barofsky, to report the results as soon as possible so the winner could be sworn in ahead of the UAW’s bargaining convention. This is exactly what ended up happening. Despite frequently being framed as a maverick extremist by the media championing the old guard, dissident union members rallied around Fain to clinch a victory.

Meanwhile, Curry abandoned earlier election claims made against his rival and stood down so Fain could be certified prior to negotiations. It was a classy move in a world riddled with dirty politics, especially considering the narrow nature of his rival's victory. When the matter was finally settled, Fain led by fewer than 500 votes.

“I want to express my deep gratitude to all UAW leaders and active and retired members for your many years of support and solidarity. It has been the honor of my life to serve our great union,” Curry said on Sunday. “Tomorrow, Shawn Fain will be sworn in as UAW president, and he will chair our 2023 Special Bargaining Convention. I am committed to ensuring that this transition is smooth and without disruptions. I wish him, the entire UAW International Executive Board, staff and clerical support as well as UAW’s membership great success for the future.”

While seen as a major victory by those who had become disenfranchised by the Reuther Administrative Caucus, we don’t yet know how Fain and company will play the game. But he should know most of the rules.

A former administrative assistant to the UAW vice president over the union’s Stellantis Department, Fain was tasked with overseeing the union’s side of the transition of the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center in Warren – which figured prominently in the union’s bribery scandal. Fain also served as the UAW’s international representative for ten years and chaired a committee at what eventually became Stellantis’ Kokomo Casting Plant in Indiana.

His new board likewise represents an unprecedented leadership shakeup within the union. Candidates who ran on Fain's UAW Members United reform caucus won each of the seven races they contested, with independents taking another. That should inform every decision that the union's 14-person International Executive Board needs to make between now and the next big election.

[Image: Daniel J. Macy/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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4 of 20 comments
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Mar 27, 2023


  • Dave M. Dave M. on Mar 28, 2023

    "81 million supposedly". Landslide according to some statisticians.

    • See 1 previous
    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Mar 30, 2023

      306 electoral votes, which is all that matters, of course.

  • 1995 SC On the plus side, I found a sedan I want to buy
  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!
  • Teddyc73 Since when did automakers or car companies become "OEM". Probably about the same time "segment" or "class" became "space". I wish there were more sedans. I would like an American sedan. However, as others have stated, if they don't sell in large enough quantities to be profitable the automakers...I mean, "OEMs" aren't going to build them. It's simple business.
  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.