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2021 Michiganians of the Year

Rory Gamble led the UAW out of a corruption scandal

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Detroit — Rory Gamble never had a real interest in becoming president of the United Auto Workers, but he felt the calling for it when he was asked to take over amid a corruption scandal that involved the two preceding presidents.

"I knew that we had something very bad going on," he said. "And it would take somebody who could put all the politics aside, and then really make the hard decisions that we needed to make, to come out of it."

Gamble fit the bill. He had four decades as union rep under his belt and with retirement nearing he had no political gains to make. 

"I didn't have to worry about picking up any political baggage, so it was perfect timing for me to be the guy to take that on because to get out of that thing the way we did, it took a lot of hard decisions," he said. 

Rory Gamble, Michiganian
Rory Gamble has spent a lifetime in the UAW. He stepped in as president during a traumatic and decisive moment and helped steer the union to calmer waters with integrity and skill.
Clarence Tabb Jr., The Detroit News

Gamble was named the first Black president of the UAW in November 2019 after former president Gary Jones stepped down once he was tied to a corruption scandal of stealing from members to purchase luxuries. Jones and former UAW President Dennis Williams have both been convicted among other UAW leaders. 

The goal when Gamble took over was to prevent the government from taking over through reforms that included: appointing the union's first-ever external ethics officer, creating a confidential ethics hotline for union members to report ethical or financial violations, and instituting new financial and accounting reviews and controls to protect members’ dues.

"I knew that before I sat down with that prosecutor that we had to have these reforms in place, up and running," Gamble said. "That was my goal from day one. And we did it."

Last December, the UAW avoided a federal government takeover and agreed to have a monitor watch over the union and its business for at least the next six years. Union members also now get the opportunity to decide if they would like to directly elect international union leaders instead of using a delegate voting system.

"We needed to maintain our self-governance," Gamble said. "Unions that are taken over lose their power and their clout... and you lose your friends." 

Former UAW President Rory Gamble poses inside his home.
Former UAW President Rory Gamble poses inside his home. Clarence Tabb Jr., The Detroit News

The union's success in its 86 years is built on the relationships it maintains with politicians and the communities where it serves, Gamble said. 

 "That's always been a real strong point for us," he said. "If we had been taken over completely, we would have lost a lot of that."

But Gamble's proudest moment in the 40 years with the union was the time he was elected to a full-time position by union members in 1984 at Ford Motor Co.'s Dearborn Frame Plant. 

"Your brothers and sisters at a plant come out and they vote, and they select who they want to represent them. And that's a proud moment when they accept you," he said. "That acceptance of your peers at that point is tremendous."

In a statement, UAW President Ray Curry, who took over in July after Gamble's retirement said, “Rory took the helm at a crucial time for the UAW. From the unforeseen impact of COVID-19; to comprehensive ethics reforms; and dealing with the auto industry advances in electric vehicle technology; Rory and the International Executive Board set a strong foundation for the UAW going forward. Generations of UAW members will be grateful that in a time that required thoughtful and insightful leadership and planning, history will recognize that Rory Gamble was the right leader at the right time for our union.”

khall@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bykaleahall

Rory Gamble

Age: 66 

Occupation: Retired United Auto Workers president

Education: Gamble graduated from the labor studies program at Wayne State University.

Family: Engaged and the father of five children 

Why honored: Gamble led the UAW out of a corruption scandal, avoiding a full federal government takeover over the Detroit-based union. He implemented financial and ethical reforms and worked with the U.S. prosecutor to ensure the union kept its independent governance. 

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