The UAW's Candidates for President Are Making Their Case

UAW members will directly elect their president for the first time this year.

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Ballots for the UAW’s runoff officer and board elections began to be mailed out on Thursday, to be completed by members and mailed back by February 17 to get in before the February 28 deadline. At stake is exactly how much members want their union, which was mired in a corruption scandal for years, to change.

Incumbent President Ray Curry — with ties to former presidents Dennis Williams and Gary Jones, both convicted in the scandal — is being challenged by Shawn Fain, who joined the UAW in 1994, and spent years as an international rep, committee person, and shop chair.

Curry is running on a message of “experience matters,” and his campaign literature doesn’t contain many specifics beyond that, while Fain says he wants to end the current tier system and win cost-of-living adjustments, among other priorities. Fain’s campaign literature also pointedly notes that he supported electing UAW presidents directly, while Curry did not. Further, Fain says that he will “never take kickbacks or bribes,” which you would like to think would go unsaid, but such is the state of things at the UAW.

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At an election in November, Curry narrowly beat Fain, but since neither candidate got a majority of the vote, or about 38 percent of the vote each, it went to a runoff, which is the election being contested now. Both candidates logged on to a Zoom call Thursday night for a debate, and, according to the Detroit Free Press, it sounds like it went about as well as could be expected:

In one particularly testy exchange, Curry and Fain blasted each other for their efforts or inaction in the face of a scandal that eventually saw two former UAW presidents — Gary Jones and Dennis Williams — sent to prison.

”Never at one time did you stand in opposition and call out the bull—— corruption that took place. You never called it out,” said Curry, who repeatedly asserted that Fain lacked experience dealing with significant issues beyond his current role at a training center and noted that Fain had previously belonged to the union’s administration caucus, which Curry leads and has been blamed for squelching reform.

Fain said he’d never been an insider and that Curry had been part of the problem and not part of the solution.

“I’m sorry that I wasn’t handpicked by the people at the top to put me in power, and I didn’t play the game,” Fain said. “Obviously, Ray Curry got along well with Dennis Williams and Gary Jones and all of them as he was handpicked to be the secretary-treasurer for Gary Jones.”

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The candidates made a variety of pledges during the debate. Fain said he would push for transparency, including posting job openings within the union and releasing more financial information about the size of the strike fund. Curry pledged to continue fighting for the membership and to continue instituting reforms.

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Curry, you’ll remember, was the guy who was elected president by the UAW board in June 2021 in what sure seemed like then was a move made perhaps to give him a leg-up should a direct election for UAW president come to pass. After UAW members voted for exactly that in a referendum in late 2021, Curry was able to run as an incumbent president last year, though the fact that he wasn’t able to get a majority of the vote in the November election suggests he isn’t a very popular one.

Now, members get to choose, between someone from the old guard and someone who aspires to be the new. From the outside, the choice seems obvious, and Fain says that 62 percent of voters in the November election, “supported candidates that opposed the Curry slate,” so perhaps this won’t end up being all that close in the end. Still, if you’re a UAW member, do vote. This is easily the most important vote you’ve ever cast for UAW president, and not just because it’s the first.

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Results of the election should be known by early March.