Former UAW vice president Marc Stepp dies at 93

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Marc Stepp, former United Auto Workers vice president and the first African-American to lead negotiations with Detroit’s Big Three automakers, died at the age of 93.

“The UAW’s International Executive Board is saddened about the passing of our brother Marc Stepp, whom we will always remember as a trailblazer, a beloved union leader and a committed community activist,” UAW President Dennis Williams said in a statement Tuesday. Media reports say he died Friday but did not give a time or place or a cause of death.

From 1974-89, Mr. Stepp served as the UAW’s vice president, becoming the second African-American on the International Executive Board, as well as director of the Chrysler department.

He negotiated steep concessions in 1979 with Chrysler when it was facing financial difficulties. Mr. Stepp also lobbied for $1.5 billion in historic government loan guarantees for the company, then oversaw negotiations for $462.5 million in concessions from union members.

“Marc Stepp was a tough leader, and he led the union’s Chrysler department during a very difficult time,” UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, who now directs the Chrysler department, said in a statement. “In 1979, when he lobbied Congress on behalf of UAW members, he proved that the voice of our members was essential to the company’s future and its success. He left us with a foundation that we continue to build on.”

In 1980, Mr. Stepp pursued his belief that workers should have input in their job by helping to create the UAW/Chrysler chapter product-quality improvement program, and helped develop modern operating agreements at several Chrysler facilities to improve communication between workers and management.

Born Marcellus Stepp on Jan. 31, 1923, in Versailles, Kentucky, Mr. Stepp and his family moved to Evansville, Indiana, when he was 11, according to the Walter P. Reuther Library. He graduated from Lincoln High School and then bought a bus ticket to Detroit.

Mr. Stepp took an interest in the social justice movement after being drafted for the Army Air Corps during World War II, not long after beginning work at the Chrysler Highland Park Plant. When he returned to Chrysler, he began his devotion to the UAW’s ideals and held several leadership positions in Local 490. He later served as Region 1B assistant director.

After retiring, Mr. Stepp continued to devote his life to service as the executive director of urban affairs and community relations at his alma mater, the University of Detroit Mercy. Mr. Stepp graduated in 1963 after attending night classes to earn an accounting degree.

Joseph Eisenhauer, dean of the College of Business Administration at the university, inducted Mr. Stepp into the school’s Hall of Honor in 2011, calling him one of the “most prestigious alumni.”

“Marc represented the rank-and-file union members and did so with courage and dignity throughout a complex and difficult era,” Eisenhauer said in an email. “We are equally proud of his contributions to the civil rights movement.”

Funeral arrangements haven’t been announced.