Former welder apt to lead UAW would keep the torch out of talks

Reuters

(Corrects attribution in quote in third to last paragraph toGary Chaison.)

By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Dennis Williams, expected tobecome the next leader of the United Auto Workers union, is aptto carry on the less confrontational policies of currentpresident Bob King, union and industry officials said.

Secretary-Treasurer Williams, 60, will most likely head theslate of half a dozen proposed officers to be announced onThursday by the U.S. union, said several people familiar withthe UAW leadership's thinking who asked not to be identified.The group will be up for election at the union's convention nextJune.

Since the 1940s, candidates picked by the administrativecaucus have been elected president. The caucus, which includesnational and local union leaders from around the country, willmeet to vote on Thursday, ahead of the planned announcement.

One of the current vice presidents, General Holiefield, isretiring and will not be on the slate.

The next president's four-year term will be marked bypotentially contentious contract talks with U.S. automakers,pressure to organize foreign-owned plants in the United Statesand maintain members in right-to-work states.

Adding members will also be a priority. Last year organizedlabor was squeezed by antiunion forces yet still boosted itsnumbers. Membership is down 31 percent since 2005.

Williams, who was based for years in Chicago as regionaldirector for an area stretching from Illinois to Wyoming,declined an interview request through a UAW spokeswoman, butthose who follow the union said his ascension is no surprise.

"You've seen this coming for a long time," said Troy Clarke,chief executive of truck maker Navistar International Corp, on whose board Williams sits. Clarke said Williams'time with Navistar, which has about 1,700 UAW-representedworkers, helped the candidate appreciate how a company operatesfrom the inside.

Williams, a former U.S. Marine, joined the UAW in 1977 as asalvage welder for tractor maker J.I. Case and soon became alocal union official. He was appointed to the nationalbargaining department in 1988 and became regional director in2001.

Assuming Williams takes over, many union observers foresee acontinuation of the status quo.

"He's worked closely with Bob King," said Harley Shaiken, aUniversity of California-Berkeley labor professor and adviser toKing. "I don't think there will be a change of direction."

King has overseen an increased alliance with unions outsidethe United States, an expansion of a two-tiered pay scale andmore cooperation with companies in what he called the "UAW ofthe 21st Century."

To further those goals, Williams brings some high-poweredconnections. "He's one of the few in the labor movement who wasan early supporter of the president and I think Barack Obama isvery much aware of that," Shaiken said. "That opens doors."

THE STRATEGY OF DEEP RELATIONSHIPS

If elected, Williams would lead the UAW during what areexpected to be rugged labor negotiations in 2015 with the threemajor U.S. automakers, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC, a unit of Fiat.

Raises for veteran workers were not granted in the lastround of talks, and newer workers who make less on the two-tierwage scale are apt to agitate for the elimination of the scale.But maintaining U.S. auto jobs is also important to the union,and the present system has helped level labor costs between U.S.manufacturers and foreign companies with domestic plants likeToyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co.

Williams would have to continue to organize thoseforeign-owned auto plants, which so far King has been unable todo despite a mighty and expensive effort. The union says it isworking closely with Volkswagen AG so it canrepresent employees at the Tennessee plant.

Then there's Michigan, which earlier this year became aright-to-work state, where union dues cannot be compulsory.

Convincing UAW members there and in other states that haveor may adopt right-to-work laws will require Williams to employwhat are said to be well-honed negotiating skills.

Recently the UAW has been attempting to develop deeprelationships with counterparts to avoid hostile talks.

That suits Williams' style, Clarke said. "You can have verycandid and, at times, very difficult conversations, and as longas you can talk to the guy the following day, the ability tobargain and negotiate continues."

Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at ClarkUniversity in Massachusetts, said the expectation that Williamswould be much like his predecessor is common among contemporarylabor unions.

"We don't have firebrands anymore. We don't have charismaticleaders," said Chaison. "One fades into another."

That's all right, Chaison said.

"Workers don't need fiery speeches. They want someone whocan be successful at the bargaining table." (Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Prudence Crowther)

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