DETROIT — United Auto Workers Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry was elected president of the union.
Curry, 55, was picked by the union’s International Executive Board on Monday. He will replace Rory Gamble, who retires Wednesday.
Gamble led the 397,000-member union through a bribery and embezzlement scandal and the coronavirus pandemic, in which the union agreed to keep auto factories running with numerous safety precautions. He was the union’s first Black president, and Curry will be the second.
Curry will be replaced as secretary-treasurer by Frank Stuglin, 61, who now is director of a union region covering the Detroit area.
In a statement, Curry said he would continue to build on a commitment of transparency, reforms, and checks and balances in the wake of the scandal.
Curry, who takes office Thursday, said he would work with Gamble to make the leadership transition smooth. “We are both dedicated to the reforms that we have put in place for the UAW,” said Curry, who was involved in financial and ethics reforms under Gamble.
Curry doesn’t come from the traditional leadership path that begins at one of the Detroit automakers. He joined the UAW in 1992 as an assembler at Freightliner Trucks in Mount Holly, North Carolina, and worked his way up to regional director in the South.
He negotiated new labor contracts with numerous auto parts makers and helped to organize Freightliner factories in North Carolina, according to his biography on the union’s website. He also led the union’s move into casinos in 2015 when the UAW successfully organized workers at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore.
Curry was named secretary-treasurer at the union’s convention in 2018, replacing Gary Jones, who became president and, earlier this month, was sentenced to 28 months in federal prison in the embezzlement scandal.
Curry likely will have to face election within the coming year. Under an agreement to avoid a federal takeover, the union agreed to hold an election for members to decide whether they will vote directly for their leaders. Historically, the president was picked by delegates to a convention after a four-year term and the outcome was seldom in doubt. That election has to take place by Nov. 12. If members approve direct voting, then members will vote by June of next year.
The executive board also picked Chuck Browning, director of another Detroit-area region, to become vice president. He’s likely to replace Gerald Kariem, who stepped down as the vice president dealing with Ford Motor Co.
Curry has been the top union official involved in a long-running strike by 3,000 workers at a Volvo truck plant in southwest Virginia. Workers have twice rejected six-year tentative agreements negotiated by their leaders and returned to the picket lines in early June.
The workers’ bargaining committee at the New River Valley plant and the company are discussing open issues including the interview process for future hires, health care, wages, health and safety issues, working conditions, plant shift operations, contractual time off and wage progression, UAW said.
The previous contract, reached in 2016, was to have expired in mid-March and negotiations began in February. Unionized workers went on strike from April 17-30 and returned to work as negotiations resumed. UAW members rejected a proposed contract in May. The company announced another tentative agreement May 22, which was rejected in early June.
While he was president, Gamble was able to hold off a threatened federal takeover of the union due to the wide-ranging corruption scandal that snared two former UAW presidents. When appointed to replace Jones in 2019, Gamble said he wanted to turn over a clean union that was on solid footing by the time he leaves. He largely did that, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank.
Eleven union officials and a late official’s spouse have pleaded guilty in the corruption probe since 2017, including the two presidents who served before Gamble, Jones and Dennis Williams.
Not all of the convictions were linked. The first wave, which included some Fiat Chrysler employees, involved money paid as bribes from a Fiat Chrysler-UAW training center in Detroit. Jones and Williams were caught in an embezzlement scheme with the leaders taking thousands of dollars of union money to buy golf clubs, booze, lavish meals and to rent expensive villas in Palm Springs, California.
During the probe, Matthew Schneider, the former U.S. Attorney in Detroit who led the investigation, said the corruption was so deep that the federal government may take over the union.
But Gamble agreed to financial safeguards and a court-appointed monitor to oversee operations for six years, as well as the election for members to decide if they want to vote directly for leaders.
Although federal authorities continue to their inquiry, Schneider said in December he had no reason to investigate conduct by Gamble.