Williams (Max Ortiz / Detroit News)
Washington— The likely next president of the United Auto Workers union said Wednesday that the union needs to make aggressive efforts to do more to grow its membership and build coalitions around the world.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, who has been endorsed by the union’s Reuther Caucus to be the next president when members vote in June, said the union needs to challenge its critics and conservatives who are cutting unemployment and food stamp benefits from the poor and out-of-work. He wants the minimum wage hiked to $15 an hour — far above the $10.10 an hour that President Barack Obama has proposed.
“Dammit, enough’s enough. We want to fight again. We’ve got to fight,” Williams told more than 1,000 members and retirees at a Washington hotel on the final day of the union’s four-day political conference. “It’s time to get it on ... We can’t outspend them, but we’ve got boots on the ground.”
Williams noted that the UAW faces contract talks with Detroit’s Big Three automakers and other companies next year. He noted that the UAW agreed to two-tier wages for new employees at the Detroit Three. “It’s time to bridge the gap. No doubt about it,” Williams said.
In the previous round of contract talks with Detroit’s Big Three, the UAW couldn’t strike and agreed to no base-wage increase for veteran workers. Many members want to receive higher base wages, even though members have received significant profit-sharing checks.
He said the UAW isn’t ready for the talks. “Are we ready? Not yet,” Williams said. “We have to have a serious conversation with our members.”
The UAW — which was forced to take huge concessions to keep the auto industry alive and lost hundreds of thousands of members — survived the 2008-09 restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler, and near-collapse of the industry.
“We survived. We’re back. We’re strong,” Williams said.
Williams — who is friends with Obama — said the president is wrong to push trade agreements. The UAW is sharply opposed to the current version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “He’s wrong on this issue,” Williams said.
Williams made a rousing call. “Let’s take on the fight. Let’s get our benefits back.”
Williams decried many conservatives.
“Who are these people? ... I recommend we stop visiting our friends and going to see our enemies,” Williams said. “When we built coalitions around the world, it is amazing what we have accomplished.”
Williams and King, both military veterans, laid a wreath at the Tomb of Unknowns. Williams tweaked King, who served as a military police officer in the Army, and questioned how King could have been an MP and be a self-described pacifist. “I am a liberal, but hell, I’m not a pacifist,” Williams said.