On Monday, Mack Trucks worker Will Lehman filed a formal protest note against the US union, the UAW, with the court-appointed supervisor. This has met with an enthusiastic response from automotive workers. Workers have expressed anger at the deeply undemocratic practices used by the union in suppressing turnout in the first direct election for top UAW offices.
Lehman — candidate for UAW chairman — made it clear that the election result, which would see longtime bureaucrat Shawn Fain and incumbent UAW chairman Ray Curry running in the runoff next month, was not viewed as a legitimate expression of autoworker will can be. The union apparatus had systematically suppressed turnout, resulting in only about 9 percent of the 1.1 million active and retired UAW members voting.
Union officials, determined to bar as many members as possible from voting, provided almost no information about the election, the candidates, or voting – despite the vast resources of an apparatus with a net worth of nearly $1 billion. As the protest note points out, the lack of any publicity for the union election stands in sharp contrast to the vast sums of money the UAW spent in November promoting various Democratic Party candidates in the congressional elections. (The full text of the protest note is here to read.)
When a temp worker at the Stellantis Warren truck assembly plant in the Detroit suburbs heard about Will’s protest note, she said, “I’m all for it. I’m happy and I stand behind him 100 percent. I hope we can retune.”
“Today the UAW distributed calendar booklets at the plant. If they can, then why haven’t they gone around and encouraged people to vote? Why did they have the TPT workers [befristete Teilzeitbeschäftigte] not told that they can choose? I just laughed: you hand out calendars but didn’t tell people they could vote and didn’t encourage them to vote. Tomorrow they will be giving out free t-shirts!”
In November, Lehman filed a lawsuit demanding a 30-day extension of the voting deadline and serious action by the UAW to inform workers about voting. The lawsuit was dismissed by the judge on flimsy technical grounds.
In the challenge to the election results sent to the supervisor, Lehman claims that “the ballots should be reissued and a new election held” or, alternatively, “the names of all candidates should be included in the ‘run-off.’ In any case, this time appropriate measures must be taken to prevent the union leadership from suppressing the election and to ensure that all members are aware of the election and are able to vote”.
“My husband got a ballot, but I didn’t. I requested one, but it was too late to vote,” said a worker who has worked at the Stellantis Jeep complex in Toledo, Ohio, for eight years. She joined Will’s challenge to the election, adding: “It’s a shame workers didn’t have the right to vote. Several temps on my team also didn’t receive a ballot, and it wasn’t easy to order one on the court-appointed overseer’s website.”
A full-time employee at Warren Truck said she supports filing an official protest note. “We have to try that, there should be a fair election where things are done the right way.”
“Many workers didn’t know there was an election. When I asked them about the election, many said, ‘What election?’ I had to explain to them that an election was taking place. I only found out about it myself because someone told me something about it.”
“This was done on purpose by the UAW. You publicized the midterm congressional elections in November a lot, we received a lot of mailings. But I didn’t even know I was even supposed to get a ballot for the UAW election. When I first heard about the election, I didn’t know the date or the way it was held. I thought we were going to vote at the union house. I didn’t know the ballot was going to come in the mail and that I had to take care of it.”
The worker said the UAW officials didn’t want a large turnout because “they weren’t ready for change”: “They didn’t want to be pushed out. As long as they don’t inform people about the election, there is no opposition. That’s how it works in the UAW local chapters. They even get upset when someone tries to run for office. There were attempts at intimidation. Someone writes a letter slandering the opposing candidate. It’s getting ugly.”
The official protest note that Lehman filed contained a poll returned by more than 100 UAW members in 55 different UAW chapters. It revealed “that the overwhelming majority of local chapters had deliberately refused to take any action to notify membership of the election and had deliberately refused to update their email and distribution lists.”
The Jeep worker commented on the contrast between the outdated and sloppy methods the UAW bureaucracy used to notify its members of the election and the modern communications and dispatch system used by union headquarters Solidarity House campaigned for the Democrats in the Nov. 8 midterm elections:
“We always get voting materials sent home by the UAW, but they didn’t even send me a ballot for the union election. That wasn’t a problem with my address. My husband and I updated our addresses at the same time as we moved. But he got a ballot, I didn’t.”
A GE Aerospace worker in Ohio said, “If they didn’t use the same system for the ballots as they did for the midterm election papers, that’s insane. An election should be one of the most important, if not the most important, task of a union. But there was absolute radio silence in my union. Had I not received an email from Will Lehman’s campaign, I would not have known there was an election.”
“There should have been a huge hype about the election, but nothing came from the local chapter or UAW headquarters.”
An Indianapolis, Indiana auto parts worker added, “I already knew the union would pull something so shady. That’s why I kept suspecting that they aren’t being honest with everyone. The UAW does not want to give power to anyone who is not part of this apparatus. They have suppressed the fact that a vote is taking place.”
“Even the overseer appointed by the court is a scam. Its sole purpose was so that they could say they did something, but they didn’t. Because with over 1.1 million UAW workers, only 103,000 voted? Nine percent! And Will testified that workers didn’t know there was an election, that they didn’t get a ballot.”
“The election must be undone and redone correctly. If they say they will, I still wouldn’t trust them. They’ve proven they can’t be trusted. All of their top henchmen have gone to jail or been charged.”
A Ford retiree in Ohio said: “I’m glad an appeal was made. Election interference requires creativity—if the UAW hasn’t done something, then no one has. Historically, elections have always been about who counts the ballots. I appreciate your critical monitoring of this election process. The whole thing hangs like a dark cloud over the UAW, and rightly so. With the dozen UAW people convicted, how many have not been caught?”
Responding to Will’s call for action committees to be set up to shift power from the UAW machinery to workers at the plants, the Toledo Jeep worker said, “It’s a good idea and the Jeep people would do it. This factory is the moneymaker for Stellantis and we are in a powerful position. If we strike them, the company would be paralyzed and brought to its knees. They are already two months behind on orders for Jeep Cherokees.”
Referring to Stellantis’ recent announcement of indefinite layoffs for 1,350 workers at the Belvidere, Illinois assembly plant, she said: “They’re trying to terrorize us ahead of next year’s contract; we’ve been saying that for a long time. They believe they can impose another bad contract by threatening not to bring a new successor to the plant. But we have to fight.”
Referring to the need to unite auto workers with broader sections of the working class, she said: “My ex-husband used to work at Norfolk Southern. The railroad workers haven’t had a contract for three years, and it’s a shame Congress has forced them to accept a contract they rejected. These people worked during Covid and the railway company wanted us to believe that the workers do not contribute to the profits. That’s ridiculous. If they went on strike, there would be a mile-long backlog of articulated lorries trying to haul cars out of our plant.”
A subcontractor worker added: “What would happen if the entire UAW said, ‘You do it or we all go on strike?’ That’s exactly what should happen. The general public is disgusted with the way the corporations and the government are handling things and we’re fed up with it and it’s going to stop. We can bring them to their knees. People are just fed up with it.”