General Holiefield, a former United Auto Workers national vice president for Chrysler Group LLC who helped bargain for more jobs and higher wages, died Monday evening, family spokeswoman Alysyn Curd confirmed. He was 61.
Holiefield had been in hospice care since Friday at Harper Hospital battling pancreatic cancer; relatives had been contacted earlier Monday to visit him after his condition worsened.
The Harrison Township resident was elected UAW vice president in June 2006 and was re-elected in 2010. He directed the Chrysler, heavy trucks and General Dynamics departments. He led Chrysler's contract negotiations in 2007 and 2011, helping craft deals that included wage raises, profit-sharing plans and increases in the number of jobs. He was instrumental in helping the automaker receive federal assistance that stopped it from going bankrupt in 2009.
"That automotive company will never be the same; he really cared about the workers," said his wife Monica Morgan-Holiefield late Monday. "He was always caring about people. He never thought about himself."
That spirit was evident in his final days, Morgan-Holiefield said, when he would ask his wife to buy sweets and baked goods for the hospital staff and other patients.
Before being named vice president, Holiefield was an administrative assistant, assistant director of the union's DaimlerChrysler department, appeals board coordinator and a servicing representative, where he worked closely with UAW members and local union leaders at Chrysler manufacturing and parts plants in Michigan and Indiana.
"He led the UAW Chrysler membership through a particularly tumultuous time in the company's history and negotiated a contract that returned the business to a strong competitive position in the United States," said Kristin Dziczek, director of the industry and labor group at the Center for Automotive Research.
Holiefield became a UAW member in 1973, when he started at the Chrysler's Jefferson assembly plant in Detroit. In 1975, he transferred to the Chrysler axle plant in Detroit, where he became involved with UAW Local 961, working on various standing committees, including civil rights, community action program, union label and bylaws.
UAW President Dennis Williams said in a statement Tuesday, "Our union mourns the passing of the gentle giant and tireless activist for working women and men everywhere. General was a dedicated trade unionist who helped UAW members at Chrysler through the dark days of the auto crisis when we were not sure the company or the industry would survive. He demonstrated tremendous insight and leadership through that period of uncertainty."
Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said, "Under his leadership, General helped guide the company through one of the most difficult periods in its history.
"As a result, Fiat Chrysler was able to provide a secure future for those who chose to stay and for the nearly 15,000 new UAW-represented employees that have joined the company since June 2009. He was a champion of the Company's efforts to transform the culture within our manufacturing facilities, which has resulted in significant improvements for our employees and our products. When he retired in November 2013, he left Fiat Chrysler better positioned to compete in a global marketplace. He was one of our own and his mark will be forever present across the assembly lines in all of our U.S. facilities."
In addition to his work, he was a member of the NAACP, the UAW Legal Services Board and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Morgan-Holiefield on Monday called her husband a gentle giant who loved dancing, playing the bass guitar and riding his motorcycle.
"He was my world," she said. "We laughed a lot and always did fun things."
Holiefield took a leave of absence from his UAW position in January 2014, one month after he accidentally shot Morgan-Holiefield in their home. She recovered. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless use of a firearm and said the incident occurred when he was cleaning several loaded guns. He retired from the UAW in June 2014.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children.
"He is at peace now," said Chalfonte Lark, one of Holiefield's children.
Lark flew last month to Detroit to be with his father, and shaved his head in solidarity when his father lost his hair to chemotherapy.
"I really appreciate everything he's done throughout my sister's and brother's lives," he said.
Funeral information was not immediately known.
Staff Writer Joel Kurth contributed.