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UAW convention ends on dramatic note, even as some hail 'democratic' progress

Jordyn Grzelewski and Breana Noble, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers' 38th Constitutional Convention ended on a dramatic note Thursday, reflecting internal fissures — as well as some signs of progress — in a union attempting to move beyond a years-long corruption scandal and position itself for an uncertain future.

In an unexpected move, UAW President Ray Curry skipped the traditional state of the union address after repeatedly delaying it earlier in the week. Some delegates also left the convention furious and confused about a move late in the day to reverse a vote that increased strike pay. And much of the morning on the convention's final day at Huntington Place was spent on a procedural matter that some saw as an attempted filibuster.

Still, numerous delegates to the quadrennial event said they felt it was the most democratic convention they'd been to yet and were encouraged by progress they felt had been made on key reforms and policies.

"I thought Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were wonderful. I thought they were democratic. Everybody got to speak their mind, including me, and I got to talk when I was saying things nobody wanted to hear," said Bill Bagwell Jr., 65, a delegate from Local 174 in Livonia. He works at General Motors Co.'s customer care and aftersales facility in Ypsilanti and has attended numerous constitutional conventions before.

But that progress, he said, seemed to have been "eliminated" Thursday, reminding him of past conventions where tactics like using noisemakers to drown out dissenting voices were common.

“In the past, if the Administrative Caucus didn’t like you and didn’t want to hear what you had to say, you did not get to say it. You would get shouted down from the floor. You would get denied access from the podium," he said. "Ray Curry is running a much more open and a much more democratic convention — up until (Thursday) morning.”

 

The convention came as the Detroit-based union operates under the oversight of a court-appointed monitor, a condition of its consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department following a years-long federal investigation into corruption among union officials and auto executives that put two former UAW presidents in prison.

The four-day meeting also served as the launch of the union's first direct elections this fall of its 13-member International Executive Board. Meanwhile, the union faces thorny issues including the electrification of the auto industry that stands to disrupt both the UAW's membership base and potentially their contracts with the Detroit automakers.

Much of the convention's final day was consumed by the nomination and election of trustees. Emilio Ramirez, president of Local 5242, was elected to a term that runs through 2030. And Dana Davidson, financial secretary for Local 249, was elected to a term that runs through 2034.

The nomination process that ultimately resulted in Davidson's election ended up taking more than an hour, during which dozens of delegates nominated Davidson. The rules of order stipulate that each candidate receive no more than two nominations. Delegates were repeatedly determined to be "out of order," but continued at length — a move that some delegates saw as a tactic to slow down the day's proceedings.

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