Shawn Fain dethrones incumbent Ray Curry

Supporters wave during an address at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina September 5, 2012, the second day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC).

Mladin Antonov | AFP | Getty Images

DETROIT — Members of United Auto Workers ousted their president in the union’s first direct election, ushering in a new era for the prominent organized labor group ahead of negotiations with Detroit automakers later this year.

The new union leader will be Shawn Fain, a member of the reform group UAW Members United and local leader for a Stellar parts plant in Indiana. He defeated incumbent Ray Curry, who was appointed president by union leaders in 2021, by hundreds of votes in a runoff.

Fain thanked the UAW members who participated in the election in a statement Saturday. He also hailed the results as a historic change of direction for the embattled union, which he says will take a “more aggressive approach” towards their employers.

“This election wasn’t 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 a leadership with a top-down corporate union philosophy that was unwilling to face management, and the result has been nothing but concessions, corruption and plant closures,” Fain said.

Curry, who previously protested the close election results, said in a statement that Fain will be sworn in on Sunday and that he is “committed to ensuring that this transition is smooth and uninterrupted”.

“I would like to express my deep gratitude to all UAW employees, clerks, leaders and most importantly, the active and retired members of our union for the years of support and solidarity. It has been the honor of my life to serve our great union,” Curry said.

More than 141,500 votes were cast in the runoff, which also included two more board positions, a 33% increase from last year’s direct election, in which neither presidential candidate received 50% or more of the vote.

The election was overseen by a federal monitor, which confirmed the results Saturday night. The results had been delayed by several weeks due to a runoff election and the tight final count.

Shawn Fain, candidate for UAW president, is in a runoff with incumbent Ray Curry for the union’s highest position.

Jim West for UAW members United

Fain’s election contributes to the biggest upheaval in UAW leadership in decades, as a majority of the union’s international board will consist of first-time directors who are not part of the “administrative committee” that has controlled the union for more than 70 years.

Fain and other members of his leadership pledged, “No corruption. No concessions. No tiers.” The last is a reference to a tiered pay scheme introduced by automakers during recent negotiations, which members have requested to be removed.

The shuffling follows a year-long federal investigation that uncovered systemic corruption involving bribery, embezzlement and other crimes at the highest echelons of the UAW.

Thirteen UAW officials were convicted as part of the investigation, including two former presidents. As part of a deal reached with the union in late 2020, a federal monitor was appointed to oversee the union and the organization conducted direct elections, with each member having one vote, eliminating a weighted delegate process.

For investors, the UAW negotiations with Detroit-based automakers are a short-term headwind, typically every four years, resulting in higher costs. But this year’s negotiations are expected to be among the most contentious and important in recent memory.

Fain has said the union will seek performance gains for members and advocate for the return of a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, as well as pay rises and job security.

The change in the UAW comes against a backdrop of a more organized labor movement across the country, a pro-union president and an industry in transition to all-electric vehicles.

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