DETROIT — Two men who began their careers on factory floors are competing to lead the 373,000 members of the United Auto Workers, a union that helps set standards for wages across the nation's manufacturing sector.
It will be the first-ever direct election of a UAW president in the union's 88-year history.
The election pits the 57-year old incumbent, Ray Curry, who started his career on the assembly line at a Freightliner truck plant in North Carolina, against Shawn Fain, 54, who began as an electrician at a Chrysler metal casting plant in Kokomo, Indiana.
Curry and Fain were the top two finishers in a five-candidate race held in December for a four year term as UAW president. Because neither man won more than 50% of the vote, they were placed in a runoff election, with ballot counting to start March 1. Separate runoff races are being held for two other UAW positions — a vice president and a regional director.
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Until this year, the leaders of the UAW had always been chosen by delegates to a convention rather than by rank-and-file union members. But in the aftermath of a bribery-and-embezzlement scandal involving union officials, members voted to hold a direct election this time.
Candidates who have positioned themselves in opposition to the established union leadership won six of 14 seats on the International Executive Board and could end up capturing as many as eight seats.
Under Curry's leadership for the past 19 months, the UAW has taken a more aggressive stance in labor talks, having gone on strike against Volvo Trucks, John Deere, the University of California and CNHI, a maker of agricultural and construction equipment.
In forthcoming contract negotiations, Curry and Fain have each said they would seek to restore traditional pensions, which, beginning in 2007, were replaced by a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan for new hires. Both also want cost-of-living and general pay raises and an end to differing tiers of wages and benefits for workers doing the same jobs, depending on their length of service.