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The Michigan AFL-CIO said its affiliated unions elected a former United Auto Workers union official as its new president.

The delegates of the state's biennial convention elected Ron Bieber to serve as president of the state labor federation for a four-year term. Bieber previously was director of the UAW's Community Action Program and headed the union's political efforts in Michigan.

Bieber, the son of former UAW President Owen Bieber, previously served as assistant director of the UAW's General Motors Department. Bieber joined UAW Local 730 at 18 after being hired at GM's Metal Fabricating plant in Wyoming.

He is the third president of the Michigan AFL-CIO since 2010.

"As president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, my goal will be to make sure all working people have a voice on the job, and in Lansing and Washington," Bieber said in a statement. "It's time for our elected leaders to get the right priorities and stop the attacks on working families.

"Moving forward, the Michigan AFL-CIO will continue to work year-round with our affiliates and members to hold politicians accountable, and make sure both parties are working together to build an economy that works for everyone, and not just the folks at the top."

Bieber will face a tough landscape for organized labor. Unions suffered a major setback in the 2014 elections in Michigan, when the Democratic candidates they backed failed to retake the governor's office or regain control of the state House of Representatives.

Michigan labor union membership fell sharply in 2014. The state's right-to-work legislation — which ended compulsory union membership for many workers — was credited as a factor in bringing the state to its lowest percentage of organized workers in more than a half-century.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in January that the percentage of unionized workers nationwide fell from 11.3 percent in 2013 to 11.1 percent in 2014 — the lowest level since before the Great Depression. In Michigan, the decline was much steeper, dropping from 16.3 percent to 14.5 percent.

The headcount of union members in Michigan fell by 48,000, even as the workforce grew by 44,000.

Michigan fell last year to the 11th most-unionized state, down from seventh in 2013. As recently as 2003, Michigan had the third-highest percentage of union workers. A decade ago, 21.6 percent of workers in the Wolverine State claimed union membership.

The full effect of Michigan's right-to-work law passed in 2012 hasn't been felt, but it was more dramatic in 2014. That's because the law didn't affect existing contracts — and many unions rushed to extend contracts before the law took effect in March 2013.

Bieber replaces Karla Swift, another former UAW official who has headed the Michigan AFL-CIO since 2011.

"Ron and I have been trade union activists together in the Michigan labor movement for over three decades, and he's always been a fierce advocate for Michigan's working families," Swift said. "I am confident that despite all the challenges we face, the labor movement's mission to give all working people a strong voice will continue under Ron's leadership for many years to come."

Swift replaced Mark Gaffney, who had held the post since 1999.

Owen Bieber was president of the UAW from 1983 until 1993. Facing numerous Big Three plant closings, Bieber responded by securing extensive wage protection measures and profit-sharing payouts for workers who remained on the line. But the UAW failed to organize new foreign-owned auto plants that opened in the Midwest and South.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

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