At the time, Dittes had been regional director on the East Coast.
Then in June 2018, the UAW's new President Gary Jones named Dittes as the lead negotiator for GM, moving longtime GM Department Vice President Cindy Estrada, over to handle FCA negotiations. Estrada represented the union in 2015 talks with GM.
Meanwhile, Joe Ashton, a former UAW vice president, had quit the GM board in December 2017 and hired a high-profile criminal defense attorney amid the FBI probe.
Dittes is nothing like Ashton, said a local union leader who has met both men.
"Joe was like a New York gangster. He wore $1,000 shoes and expensive suits. He had an entourage. How do you relate to working people?" said the local union leader. "Terry's a working guy. He dresses like a working guy. Drives his own car."
According to Union Facts.com, in 2015, Dittes' salary was $133,665. At that time, Dennis Williams was the UAW president making $159,059.
Don't let the deferential Dittes fool you, say other union local leaders.
Some say he's been looking for a fight since GM's November announcement. And when many UAW local leaders voted that Ford Motor Co. be the UAW's target company, it was Dittes who pushed for it to be GM.
"We wanted it to be Ford because that's where we thought we'd get the job done," said another UAW local officer who asked to not be named.
In collective bargaining, the UAW selects a target company to negotiate a contract with first and then uses that as a template with the other two Detroit automakers.
"But Terry said it was his turn," said the local officer. "He wanted a fight. He said he's the right man at the right time."
This leader worries that Dittes might not bend enough to achieve a deal.
"With bargaining you have to give something," said this leader. "The feeling is that Terry feels if we stay out long enough we'll get what we want."
Across the table from Dittes, GM's top bargainer is veteran negotiator Scott Sandefur. Sandefur, 57, joined GM in 1986 and worked on previous UAW negotiations. GM said Sandefur is a "strong advocate for employee engagement and has worked with various union partners to promote collaboration."
Those working directly with Dittes said he is flexible, but he is also committed to listening to the concerns of union members.
"They're the ones who have to live with it," said a UAW leader familiar with Dittes and this year's talks.
Dittes is intense and focused, not willing to tip his hand during negotiations.
"Terry's fighting for an agreement that there's no need to explain it to the members," said the leader. "They either like it or they won't."
And despite the UAW's top turmoil, most of the strikers on the line stand behind the middle management bargainers and Dittes, they say.
"I have no qualms about it, knowing his experience as a negotiator," said O'Hara. "He's fighting for the same things that the UAW has been fighting for since the 1930s, which is a fair and equitable contract. He understands the seriousness of these negotiations, not just for the next four years, but into the future."
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