UAW Members Will Get a Chance to Change the Way They Elect Their Leaders

After corruption convictions, federal plan offers workers the choice of direct elections.

An investigation into corruption within the United Auto Workers resulted in 15 convictions for union leaders and executives at Fiat Chrysler.

The government’s plan to respond to that corruption requires the union to give members a chance to decide if they would like to change the way they elect their leadership.

Eric Truss is the general council delegate of the union’s largest unit, Local 600, and a member of the Steering Committee for a caucus within the UAW called Unite All Workers for Democracy. UAWD has launched a campaign to educate members about the upcoming vote and what they see as the benefits of direct elections.

He says UAW leaders have always been elected by delegates at a convention.

Eric Truss, UAW Local 600 and the Unite All Workers for Democracy Caucus: The administrative caucus is strong in that delegate process. And it seems always that when it comes to that, and with contracts to delegates vote on — they help vote on our resolutions for contracts — it always seems like the membership doesn’t get what they want. It always seems, and from delegates who got in there that are independent delegates we hear how there’s always pressure to vote the way the leadership wants  and who they want.

And the way that is done — it’s done by ayes and nays. So, if we were to ask our delegates, “what did you vote,” they can lie because there’s no accountability. We will never know what they voted. And it’s always been that way for a long time. Because there’s no accountability. There’s no ballot.

Sascha Raiyn, WDET: Now that there’s a federal monitor in place, the union will get to vote on how leadership is elected. What do you know about how that’ll work?

So, you have the one member, one vote referendum, which is basically the government is giving the membership, the UAW membership, an opportunity to vote on whether they want to keep the delegate process, or whether each member can vote themselves on who they want their leadership to be. They have to decide what are the rules on how they’re gonna vote. Like, for instance, can retirees vote? Retirees pay dues, union dues. So, they’re a member. Can they vote? They you know, they got to figure out what are the rules going to be. Who can vote. How they’re going to vote. So, it hasn’t been decided on all the rules and that.

But that’s what the membership is going to get — an opportunity to vote on whether they want to choose the vote themselves, and have that power, or go back to the old way, which is the delegate system.

“It’s done by ayes and nays. So, if we were to ask our delegates, ‘what did you vote,’ they can lie because there’s no accountability. We will never know what they voted. And it’s always been that way for a long time. Because there’s no accountability. There’s no ballot.” –Eric Truss, UAW Local 600

Do most members want to change the delegate system?

There’s some that don’t even realize the delegate system exists. There’s members that never voted before they just assume that when we go vote, we’re actually voting for our leadership. So this is bringing awareness to people who never voted before, who didn’t really care about the voting system. It’s to let the members know that now is the time — and it may be the only time — that the members may have a chance to put the vote in their hands so they choose their leadership instead of their delegates.

This is an opportunity for everybody from different work backgrounds to actually put different people at the table to actually help give them the right contract, Somebody that can understand from different work backgrounds. UAW is more than just auto and I think this gives … it gives you a chance to be that more diverse, unified worker.

What do you think would make this campaign successful? Is it just that members finally have the chance to vote on direct elections?

That’s a good question. I guess what will make this campaign succeed would be how much pain has every member felt from the corruption from bad contracts. from delegates who didn’t take the message of the members to the convention. I think that will determine the overall effects of it. How much hurt is it out there, UAW-wide.

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  • Sascha Raiyn
    Sascha Raiyn is Education Reporter at 101.9 WDET. She is a native Detroiter who grew up listening to news and music programming on Detroit Public Radio.