Saturday, June 10, 2006

UAW: Can it survive? Leadership change looms

June 9, 2006
UAW: Can it survive?

Leadership change looms
Bryce G. Hoffman and Josee Valcourt / The Detroit News

Next week, the United Auto Workers union will witness a changing of the guard unprecedented in its recent history as its three leading vice presidents are replaced by a new generation of labor leaders.

The change comes as the UAW faces perhaps its biggest challenge ever in the form of rapidly dwindling membership rolls and looming contract negotiations in 2007 that many observers expect to be the most contentious in decades.

While last-minute surprises are always possible, UAW delegates are expected to elect three new vice presidents in Las Vegas next week: Region 1A Director James "Jimmy" Settles Jr., Region 3 Director Terry Thurman and General Holiefield, an assistant to UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.

"All three are walking into a real baptism by fire," said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California-Berkeley. "These are troubled times for the industry. That said, they're all seasoned UAW members."

The three men will replace longtime leaders Richard Shoemaker, Gerald Bantom and Nate Gooden, who are barred from seeking re-election because of their age. However, it is far from certain who will get which position.

Thurman, who started his career at General Motors Corp., is seen as a candidate to replace Shoemaker as head of the GM bargaining unit. But Bob King, who currently handles organizing for the UAW, is also seen as a candidate for that post. King is also mentioned as a possible successor to Bantom as head of the Ford unit, a position for which Settles is also seen as a likely choice. Most observers believe Holiefield, a Chrysler veteran, will be tapped to head the DaimlerChrysler unit.

The decision is ultimately up to Gettelfinger. But labor expert Michael Whitty, a business professor at University of Detroit Mercy, said each of the men is well-qualified to represent the union in the critical 2007 contract negotiations.

"They know what the challenges are. They've sat at many bargaining tables."

You can reach Bryce Hoffman at (313) 222-2443 or


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