UAW President Rory Gamble announces he will retire June 30

Rory Gamble, the first African American president of the United Auto Workers, will retire on June 30 — a year earlier than planned, opening the way for the union's fourth leader in three years.

“I said on Day One I would hand over the keys to this treasured institution as a clean union,” Gamble, 65, said in a statement less issued less the two hours after he officially notified the UAW's governing International Executive Board. “My original intent as a UAW Vice President was to retire at the end of June 2021, and after looking at the progress we have made and the best interests of UAW members for a stable transfer of power, this is the right time for me to turn over the reins.”

UAW International President Rory Gamble speaks during a press conference, with United States Attorney Matthew Schneider.

Gamble's early retirement was expected. The Detroit News first reported in April the intentions of Gamble to retire a year before the end of his four-year term. It would position Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry, 55, as the second Black president of a union marred by 11 former officials being convicted of federal crimes in recent years. Additionally, Curry represents the possibility for a long-term leader amid a historic transformation in the automotive industry toward electrification.

►For subscribersWhat Rory Gamble's departure could mean for the UAW

Confirmation of Gamble's early retirement comes a day before a scheduled $150-per-plate gala dinner "honoring and saluting The Man, The Legend, Mr. Rory Gamble" to be held Saturday at The Westin Hotel in Southfield, Gamble himself, in a recent interview with CNBC, acknowledged that he was "looking at my options right now."

During his short tenure, Gamble has helped negotiate a deal to resolve a criminal investigation of the UAW that gives the federal government prolonged oversight and broad control over the union. The oversight is expected to cost millions of dollars.

Gamble also announced reorganizations that included disbanding a 17-state region based in Missouri that employed leaders involved in financial wrongdoing. And he announced financial reforms that include appointing an independent ethics officer, strengthening internal financial controls and ordering the sale of a $1.3 million lakefront retirement home for former President Dennis Williams.

Gamble's resignation comes after a third-party monitor has been appointed to oversee the union for the next six years as the organization emerges from its most legally fraught period in its 86-year history. The union reached a consent decree with the Justice Department in December after a federal corruption investigation convicted two presidents, two vice presidents, and others. 

The consent decree also requires a historic referendum to decide whether to amend the UAW constitution to enable the direct election of the union's top officials. Such a move would represent a radical departure from the decades-long practice of allowing a small group of labor leaders elected by their locals to choose those members of the union's International Executive Board.

Gerald Kariem, set to retire at the end of June 2021 as vice president and director of the United Auto Workers' Ford Department.

Elevating Curry, a member of the union's board, would provide an incumbent option with ties to the UAW's existing leadership for the organization's top job instead of leaving it vacant for what could be the union's first one-person, one-vote election in its history.

UAW leaders have a tradition of stepping down or not pursuing reelection when they turn 65. Gerald Kariem, 65, UAW vice president and head of the Ford Department, recently said he will retire at the end of June.

Curry's appointment could help to realize Gamble's goal of ending a string of one-term presidents leading the UAW since 2010. Gamble and his predecessor, Gary Jones, who was convicted of helping steal more than $1 million from rank-and-file workers as part of a racketeering scheme, had some of the shortest presidencies in the union's history since its earliest leaders after the organization's founding in 1935. Jones was president for 17 months. Gamble has been president for almost 19 months.

With the ability to run for a full term in 2022 and reelection in 2026, Curry's theoretical presidency could last about nine years. Such a tenure could span the fraught transition toward electric vehicles that require fewer workers to assemble and fewer parts than their gas- and diesel-powered predecessors.

If the membership of the UAW chooses the “one member, one vote” principle through the referendum, according to the consent decree between the union and the government, the UAW constitution will be amended to incorporate the new election model ahead of the next UAW constitutional convention in June 2022 when the next election for the executive board would take place.

UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, director of the union's Stellantis Department. She also heads organizing and the Independent Parts and Suppliers Department.

The secretary-treasurer position is the second-highest-ranking job in a union with more than $1.1 billion in assets and approximately 1 million active and retired workers. The candidates vying to become the next secretary-treasurer are said to be UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, 52, who oversees the union's organizing efforts and its Stellantis NV department, and Chuck Browning, 56, who leads a union region that includes Detroit and most of Wayne County, two sources with knowledge of the succession plans previously told The News.

On Friday, two sources familiar with the fluid situation inside the union's leadership ranks said that Estrada had withdrawn from consideration to become secretary-treasurer and that Browning is interested in heading the union's Ford Department, replacing the retiring Kariem.

The succession plan reflects the personnel challenges in moving beyond the most damaging period in the union's long history. The News reported in late 2017 that federal agents were interested in Estrada while investigating whether worker training funds were misappropriated and if labor leaders received money or benefits through their tax-exempt nonprofits. She has not been charged with wrongdoing.

UAW Region 1A Director Chuck Browning addressing picketers outside General Motors Co.'s Romulus powertrain plant during the 2019 strike.

Browning, meanwhile, served as executive administrative assistant to President Dennis Williams, who was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for conspiring to embezzle union funds. Respected inside the union and among auto executives, Browning has not been linked to the UAW scandal.

The future of the UAW will be shaped by government oversight. U.S. District Judge David Lawson appointed New York attorney Neil Barofsky as the monitor overseeing UAW reforms. Within the next six months, the UAW must hold a referendum vote on amending the union constitution to allow for the direct election of the UAW's executive board.

The consent decree also includes appointing an adjudications officer empowered to discipline and expel UAW officers for committing crimes, violating ethics rules or the union's constitution. Federal investigators have amassed evidence of UAW officials engaged in conduct that did not lead to criminal charges and that evidence could be used to expel current union leaders once the monitor and adjudications officer are appointed, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

In all, the ongoing crackdown on auto industry corruption has led to the convictions of 15 people, including former UAW presidents Jones and Williams. The investigation has revealed labor leaders and auto executives broke federal labor laws, stole union funds and received bribes and illegal benefits from union contractors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV executives.

 “We have to be very precise and have zero tolerance going forward in how we manage our union," Gamble told The News in an interview in November 2019. "Which means we’ve got to be honest with ourselves and recognize that there was a problem, that there’s a need for great change, and we have to show that we can self-govern.

"We don't have time to procrastinate on big things, on what needs to be corrected in our union. We've got to move fast."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

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