Troubled UAW taps Curry to be next president, its fourth in three years

Breana Noble Daniel Howes
The Detroit News

United Auto Workers Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry will be the union's fourth president in less than three years.

The union's governing International Executive Board elevated Curry, 55, in anticipation of President Rory Gamble's retirement on Wednesday. Curry will oversee the union as it enters a new chapter with a court-appointed monitor overseeing the union for the next six years, seeks to regain trust with members and partners following convictions of 11 former officials and navigates a transforming automotive industry toward electric vehicles that require new skills to build and fewer parts.

Ray Curry named new president of the United Auto Workers.

“Industry is at a crossroads right now with massive changes in new innovative technologies," Curry said in a statement. "It will be up to us to navigate through this monumental shift in mobility and manufacturing."

Region 1 Director Frank Stuglin, 61, will replace Curry as secretary-treasurer, and Region 1A Director Chuck Browning, 57, becomes a vice president to head the Ford Department to replace the retiring Gerald Kariem.

Curry is the second African American president of the union. All three men officially will assume their roles on Thursday.

Their terms expire in June 2022, when they could face an election. Per a consent decree reached between the union and the federal government in December following a years-long investigation into corruption, rank-and-file members will have the chance to vote on a referendum later this year on whether to amend the UAW constitution to require a direct election of its international leaders.

"As president, I pledge to continue to build upon our commitment to a culture of transparency, reforms and checks and balances," Curry said. "I will be embracing the model that has been set forth by my brother and friend, Rory L. Gamble, to be accessible and accountable to our members, to keep them informed and engaged. Rory has led us through the storm, and we are so grateful for his leadership."

A North Carolina native, Curry didn't come to the UAW through one of the Detroit automakers. He started as an assembler in 1992 at Freightliner Trucks in Mount Holly, North Carolina, before joined international staff in 2004. Since 2014, he has been on the International Executive Board first as director of Region 8 covering the southeast states and then as secretary-treasure in 2018.

While in that role, the UAW implemented financial ethics reforms, including internal and external auditing, more financial reporting procedures and a review of financial systems. That came after federal investigators found union officials, including former UAW Presidents Dennis Williams and Gary Jones, embezzled hundreds of thousands of union dollars and spent them on personal luxuries like cigars, golfing and Palm Springs villas.

Curry added its a priority grow the union across all sectors from foreign automakers to higher education in place like South Carolina, New York and California. He has negotiated new labor contracts with several auto parts makers, and helped to organize Freightliner factories in North Carolina. He also led in 2015 the union’s move into casinos when the UAW successfully organized workers at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore.

Curry also served three years on active duty in the U.S. Army and five years in the U.S. Army Reserve. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and finance. He holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Alabama. He also is active within the Democratic Party and the NAACP.

Replacing Curry is Stuglin, who has overseen the Thumb region of Michigan, including Detroit, since 2018. He is a welder repairman by trade and has been active in the UAW since 1979 while working at Hydraulic Accessories Co.

"Together in Region 1, we have taken a bottom-up approach to leadership, getting members directly involved not only in contracts, but in organizing, activism and community service,” Stuglin said in a statement. "I hope to bring that same member driven approach to my new assignment.”

Rising to head of the Ford Department, Browning comes from Region 1A covering Southeast Michigan, which he has led since 2018. Prior to that, the Downriver native was Williams' executive administrative assistant, the top non-elected position within the UAW. He started at the auto plant in Flat Rock in 1987 when it was owned by Mazda Motor Corp. As plant chair, he oversaw the ownership change to Ford Motor Co.

“Together, we have focused on member services, contracts and our community, and I’m proud to say we have built a team atmosphere," Browning said in a statement. "I am committed to continuing that service and support to the membership and our communities in my new role.”