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For the second time in a row, leaders of the United Auto Workers reached beyond its Big Three department heads Thursday to tap a new would-be president.

Gary Jones, a former administrative assistant to the secretary-treasurer who is a director of the union’s 17-state Region 5 out west, will lead the UAW’s slate for elections next June to determine the next leader of one of the nation’s most influential labor unions.

And in a sign that the widening federal criminal investigation into joint UAW-Big Three training centers is impacting the union’s senior leadership, 59-year-old Norwood Jewell, head of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV department, will retire Jan. 1, roughly six months before his current term is scheduled to end.

The proposed leadership change comes as the union is seeking to rebound from a devastating defeat in organizing Nissan workers in Canton, Miss., a failed organizing attempt of line workers at Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga plant, and a continuing federal probe into the use of joint UAW-Big Three training funds financed by Detroit’s automakers.

The nomination by the union’s Reuther Caucus means Jones, 60, is likely to become the next president of the UAW, which is seeking to replace its outgoing president Dennis Williams, who is retiring next year after four years at the helm of the union.

Jones is joined on the slate by UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel, who is making a bid for re-election; two new vice-presidential candidates, Region 1A’s Rory Gamble and Region 9’s Terry Dittes; and Cindy Estrada, currently head of the union’s General Motors Co. department.

The UAW’s formal election will take place at its 37th Constitutional Convention, scheduled to be held in Detroit’s Cobo Hall next June. Newly elected officers would assume their new positions following the balloting.

Jones has been director of UAW’s Region 5 since 2012. In his current position, he leads UAW members in 17 states in the western and southwestern United States, including Missouri, California and Washington state. If elected, he would be the union’s 12th president.

The next UAW president will have to deal with a widening federal probe of its use of joint training funds financed by Detroit’s automakers, but largely managed by union staff. The probe, which began with an investigation of the UAW’s use of Fiat Chrysler training funds, has been expanded to include a member of GM’s board and the UAW’s training centers funded by all three Detroit automakers.

The federal probe was spurred initially by corruption charges filed against a former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV labor executive and the wife of a deceased union vice president. In July, former Fiat Chrysler labor negotiator Alphons Iacobelli and Holiefield’s widow, Monica Morgan-Holiefield, were indicted on charges of violating the Labor Management Relations Act. They are accused of participating in a $4.5 million scheme that siphoned corporate training funds earmarked for blue-collar workers.

The union also is still licking its wounds over the bruising election at the Nissan plant that saw its bid to unionize workers there go down to defeat. The federal probe played a key role in the final days of the campaign, with Nissan leaders circulating articles that were published by The Detroit News and other publications among workers.

About one week later, Nissan workers at the plant voted nearly 2-to-1 against joining the labor union after a contentious campaign that emerged as the latest test of its ability to organize employees of foreign automakers in the South. The Japanese manufacturer said 2,244 of its Canton workers voted no, while 1,307 cast ballots in favor of joining the UAW.

The defeat marked the third time in nearly 30 years that Nissan workers in the South have voted against joining the UAW. Workers at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn., plant voted against joining the UAW by 2-to-1 margins in 1989 and 2001.

The UAW has been unable to make any big gains beyond its Midwest base of factories owned by Detroit’s Big Three where the union has been established for decades.

The union has pointed to smaller wins in the South, including skilled-trades workers who maintain machinery and robots at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga. They voted for UAW representation by a margin of 108-44 in a 2015 election. That vote took place 20 months after the union was narrowly defeated in an election involving all hourly employees.

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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