Fain declares victory in UAW presidential election; Curry sets swearing-in for Sunday

Shawn Fain was declared the winner Saturday over President Ray Curry in the UAW runoff election, capping a remarkable campaign by dissidents that offered a stinging rebuke to the caucus that has controlled the union for decades.

Fain will be sworn in to office on Sunday, according to a statement from Curry posted on the UAW's website.

The independent federal monitor overseeing the election announced the win Saturday in a filing in federal court in Detroit and later on the monitor’s website following the resumption of the vote count at the UAW Region 1A headquarters in Taylor. The results must still be certified by the monitor. The news ends weeks of uncertainty in a tight contest over the union's direction as it prepares for contract bargaining this year with Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Stellantis, owner of Jeep, Ram, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat.

Shawn Fain in his Shelby Township home on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.Fain is running for UAW president against incumbent Ray Curry.
Shawn Fain in his Shelby Township home on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.Fain is running for UAW president against incumbent Ray Curry.

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Fain, who was atop the UAW Members United slate in the United Auto Workers’ first direct election of top leaders, led Curry by 483 votes, which is greater than the number of challenged ballots remaining, according to a news release from Fain's campaign.

Determining that Fain had won, however, did not come easy. Clearing the challenged ballots for eligibility led to weeks of delay, and the monitor’s office had to issue a ruling on a protest, which it rejected, from the Curry camp, demanding that a new runoff be held.

Fain, in a statement Saturday, thanked members who voted in the historic election:

"This election was not 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 leadership with a top-down, company union philosophy who have been unwilling to confront management, and as a result we’ve seen nothing but concessions, corruption and plant closures. While the election was close, it is clear that our membership has long wanted to see a more aggressive approach with our employers. We now have a historic opportunity to get back to setting the standard across all sectors, and to transform the UAW into a member-led, fighting union once again, and we are going to take it. The future of the working class is at stake.”

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Curry, in his statement, wished Fain success:

"I want to express my deep gratitude to all UAW leaders and active and retired members for your many years of support and solidarity. It has been the honor of my life to serve our great union. Tomorrow, Shawn Fain will be sworn in as UAW president, and he will chair our 2023 Special Bargaining Convention. I am committed to ensuring that this transition is smooth and without disruptions. I wish him, the entire UAW International Executive Board, staff and clerical support as well as UAW’s membership great success for the future."

Curry's willingness to move forward with the transition ahead of the convention's Monday start removes a potential concern from some members who had worried that a president-elect might be sidelined during a key event that will set the tone for upcoming bargaining with the Detroit Three. Two sources had told the Free Press this week that Curry had committed to a gentlemen's agreement that if Fain were declared the winner, he could be sworn in prior to the convention. The sources agreed to talk about the issue on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

Following the news of Fain's win, congratulatory notes went out from numerous sources.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said in a tweet directed at Fain: "I look forward to working together to build on the hard work the men and women of UAW have done for decades to inspire workers everywhere in the fight for better wages and benefits."

Mike Perez, vice president of North American labor relations for GM, said the General Motors team is "committed to building a working relationship based on trust and mutual respect, operating in the best interest of our employees and stakeholders“ with Fain.

A Stellantis statement, provided by spokeswoman Ann Marie Fortunate, said: "We look forward to working with President Fain on issues that will further contribute to our mutual success while securing Stellantis' position in this highly competitive market."

Fain, whose campaign focused on the need to be aggressive in contract negotiations with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis and which sought to capitalize on the desire for reform in light of the corruption scandal that rocked the union, ultimately won a close contest. He had maintained a lead over Curry in the initial days of the count but saw that tighten considerably as results from Region 8, made up of mostly Southern states, were tallied.

Fain’s win means a clean sweep for his slate. It also underscores the discontent felt by many UAW members over the union’s direction in the wake of the long-running corruption scandal, which sent former union leaders and ex-auto executives to prison.

Candidates running as reformers now control a majority of the union's International Executive Board.

Fain’s slate won seven of the 14 seats on the board, and David Green won as an independent in Region 2B.

Still, the division signals the work Fain and others will have as they try to unite the union after a divisive election cycle. Fain and incumbent UAW Vice President Chuck Browning, who heads the union’s Ford department, join Daniel Vicente, director of Region 9, as the winners in the runoff. All three were forced into the runoff because the initial election last year failed to produce a clear winner in each of their respective races.

Ballot counting began in Dayton, Ohio, on March 1 and it continued until it was paused March 4. Fain was leading by 645 votes at that point with the majority of ballots counted, but about 1,608 unresolved challenged ballots meant the margin between the two candidates was too great to declare a winner, according to the monitor’s office. Clearing ballots for eligibility was described as a time-consuming process, and the vote count was put on hold until it resumed in Detroit on March 16.

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That still failed to deliver a winner as ballots were shipped back to Dayton, and the work to clear the remaining challenged ballots continued this week. The delays prompted former UAW President Bob King to urge the monitor, Neil Barofsky, to report the results as soon as possible so the winner could be sworn in ahead of the UAW bargaining convention.

The election offered a dramatic departure for the UAW, which formerly had delegates choose its top leaders at UAW conventions. Instead, delegates at the UAW convention in Detroit in July nominated candidates for office who then had to campaign.

The process was a result of the agreement between the federal government and the union stemming from the corruption scandal. UAW members and retirees were given the opportunity to choose how their top leaders were picked, and they selected the direct election process in a referendum.

Participation in the runoff exceeded that of the initial election, where five candidates were competing for the presidency. Criticism about low participation in that initial round prompted candidate Will Lehman to file a federal lawsuit, later dismissed, seeking to extend the deadline for ballots to be returned.

The independent monitor, appointed as part of a deal reached between the government and the union, reported that 141,548 ballots had been received by the deadline for the runoff, which was an increase from the 106,790 that came in for the initial election, although it was not immediately clear how many were deemed ineligible.

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Both Fain and Curry offered long tenures with the union even though their backgrounds diverged.

Fain is an administrative assistant to the UAW vice president over the union’s Stellantis Department. He had been tasked with overseeing the union’s side of the transition of the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center in Warren. Fain served 10 years as a UAW international representative and was a former skilled trades committeeperson and shop chair at what's now the Stellantis Kokomo Casting Plant in Indiana.

Curry was picked as president by the International Executive Board in 2021 to replace the now-retired Rory Gamble. Curry got his start with the UAW in 1992, when he was hired as a truck assembler at Freightliner Trucks in Mount Holly, North Carolina, according to the union. He previously served as Region 8 director and as secretary-treasurer, among other positions.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Fain declares victory in UAW presidential election; Curry concedes