Kariem poised for UAW-Ford vice president; Region 1D could be disbanded
Detroit — The United Auto Workers' governing International Executive Board is poised to vote Thursday to elevate Gerald Kariem, director of the union's Region 1D, to vice president and director of its Ford Motor Co. Department, according to three sources familiar with the situation.
The executive board also could consider a plan to split Kariem's region representing 48,000 members and combine it with two other regions, according to two of the sources who were not permitted to speak publicly on the meeting. Region 1D covers Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as well as the central, western and northern portions of the Lower Peninsula.
UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said there has been "no board discussion" on the consolidation of Region 1D.
The consolidation would be the second in as many months after the executive board dissolved Region 5 amid an expanding federal corruption investigation that entangled the region and its and the union's top leaders. Meanwhile, the selection of a new vice president comes as a rank-and-file movement seeking to implement the direct election of international officers gathers momentum.
Kariem would complete the remaining term of former UAW-Ford Vice President Rory Gamble. Gamble was elevated to president in early November after former President Gary Jones left on paid leave and later resigned as he was implicated in the years-long corruption probe, though he has not been charged. The vice president's term ends in 2022.
Kariem, 63, of Saginaw is in his third term as director of Region 1D. He was paid $175,480 in 2018, and is one of the longest-serving members of the executive board. Kariem was first elected to the region in June 2010. He joined the union in 1976 at Saginaw Steering Gear and is currently a member of UAW Local 362 in Bay City.
The promotion of Kariem would leave a vacancy in the directorship of Region 1D. The board could mirror what it did with Region 5 and split Region 1D, combining it with Region 1A and Region 1. They cover the southeastern and Thumb areas of Michigan.
"Given what has happened over time in their memberships, they very well may not need three regions in the state of Michigan and Canada," said Marick Masters, a Wayne State University business professor who studies labor relations.
The executive board in December dissolved the 17-state Region 5 in based in St. Louis, where Jones previously was director before becoming president, merging it with Region 4 in Illinois and Region 8 in Tennessee. The region had been scrutinized for its conferences in Palm Springs, California and Missouri, where UAW officials spent more than $1 million in member dues on poolside villas, alcohol, cigars, golf, steak dinners and other luxuries, federal authorities say.
Consolidating a region associated with corruption could be a way to start over and clean out corruption, Masters said. But regions typically are consolidated because of declining membership or financial problems.
The consolidation also could create a "more powerful entity that might be able to influence the political process or influence the bargaining process," Masters said.
But merging regions can be a difficult task for members looking to preserve their own regional identities and power, Masters added: "I think most of the time they are not OK with it. They may feel in being a part of a larger unit, their interests may be quashed."
In 2013, Kariem oversaw the merger of Flint-based Region 1C into Region 1D based in Grand Rapids in efforts by the international union to save money.
"I really don't think it could have went as well with someone else," said Eric Welter, Local 598 shop chairman at General Motors Co.'s Flint Assembly plant. "He was a welcoming man. He kept it inclusive."
Added Lansing Local 652 President Randy Freeman: "He cares about his members. He's always been there when we need him."
But Scott Shingledecker, a UAW member for almost 35 years at Flint Truck Assembly, said he never saw Kariem on the picket lines during the national strike against the Detroit automaker last fall.
“That sat sideways with me," he said. "It’s disheartening not seeing your regional director walk the picket line.”
Rothenberg, however, said Kariem visited picket lines multiple times in Region 1D during the 40-day national strike against General Motors Co.
"Director Kariem visited his region's 13 local picket lines often during the national strike at all hours including third shift," Rothenberg said in a statement.
In addition to his work in the UAW, Kariem serves on the Democratic National Committee and was a member of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's transition team following her election in 2018. He also is on the board of the United Way of Saginaw County, the Saginaw Chapter of the NAACP and the Foundation for Mott Community College.
"I have all the confidence in the world for Gerald," Welter said. "He's just a good community leader. He is an advocate for working families."
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