Fain slate predicts victory in UAW runoff election as Curry campaign calls foul

The slate endorsing Shawn Fain for president of the United Auto Workers is predicting his victory after tabulation of mailed-in ballots in the runoff election resumed following a 12-day hiatus with just a few hundred votes between him and incumbent Ray Curry.

Curry's slate responded Friday, calling on the union's court-appointed monitor to delay the runoff results further and investigate numerous questions about the election, including whether his opponent's campaign financing violated election rules and if one candidate for a region's director was even eligible.

UAW presidential candidates Ray Curry, upper left, and Shawn Fain, lower right, participate in a virtual debate, January 12, 2023, moderated by former New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse

Although counting began March 1, the UAW still doesn't have final unofficial results for who will lead the Detroit-based union during a critical point in its history. It's emerging from a years-long corruption scandal that entangled two of its former presidents. Meanwhile, the auto industry is plunging forward with its electric-vehicle transformation that could leave workers behind, and the quadrennial bargaining convention determining the priorities for this year's labor negotiations with Detroit's three automakers is a little more than a week away.

Marick Masters, a management professor and labor expert at Wayne State University, said the delay in determining the winner could have significant implications for the union, especially given the timing.

“They have things that operate on a clock to help them get ready for the upcoming negotiations with the Detroit Three," he said. "So all those items on the agenda are pressing, and any delay makes it more difficult for whoever is going to be the president to make preparations for that and get ready for the negotiations, and also to set the agenda going forward for the next several years.”

The office of the UAW monitor, New York attorney Neil Barofsky, hasn't provided updated vote counts since tabulation resumed. Unofficial results posted by the caucus backing Fain, Unite All Workers for Democracy, have Fain ahead of Curry 50.2% to 49.8%.

The margin between the two candidates stood at 505 ballots, the monitor reported in a status update filed in federal court Friday.

That's a slight decrease from the 645-vote spread between Fain and Curry after the initial tabulation. The latest votes are from the 1,608 ballots that had been challenged over member eligibility. The monitor's office and the UAW took the hiatus starting March 4 to verify whether the ballots came from members in good standing, as required by the election rules.

Some 600 unresolved challenged ballots remain, according to the monitor's court filing.

"Meaning, the unresolved, challenged ballots still outnumbered the differential between the candidates," the monitor's office wrote. "Accordingly, the outcome of the race for International President still could not be determined, and will continue."

UAW Members United, however, contends that Fain's "victory (is) all but assured" because the 600 unresolved ballots would have to favor Curry by an overwhelming margin for him to overcome Fain's lead.

In a statement Friday, UAW Members United urged the monitor to finalize the results: "Post-election protests are routine and should be handled through the proper channels without delaying the work of the membership."

The release also included a letter to the monitor from former UAW President Bob King, who led the union from 2010-14. King argued that candidates still could pursue post-election appeals, but that it is "imperative" to finalize the election before the bargaining convention later this month.

"I think asking you to delay the announcement and/or final counting of the remaining challenged ballots is detrimental to the overall UAW membership and full preparation for the upcoming bargaining," he wrote. "It is in the best interest of the membership to swear in the next president whether that is Ray Curry or Shawn Fain before the Special Bargaining Convention, and I encourage all candidates and the Monitor’s office to work expediently towards that outcome."

Fain, 54, and Curry, 57, obtained the most votes of five candidates for president in the election held in the fall, but neither secured the needed majority to avoid a runoff.

Victory by Fain, an international administrative representative in the Stellantis Department running on the UAWD-backed Members United slate, would make history in the union's first direct election of its 14-member International Executive Board. He would join the tally of wins by candidates who challenged those backed by the Administrative Caucus that has held control of the union for more than 70 years.

"By now, the writing is on the wall: change is coming to the UAW," Fain said in a statement. "Let's count every vote and get to work on putting the membership back in the driver's seat of our union. We're pressing the Monitor to resolve the remaining challenged ballots as quickly as possible. You, the members, have already made history in this election, and we're just getting started. It's a new day in the UAW.”

The Curry Solidarity Team, however, says it filed a protest with Barofsky prior to the count resuming Thursday. The statement says the motion alleges Curry's opponent received donations from employers that bargain with the UAWD and other employers. It didn't specify which employers, and campaign finance records aren't publicly available.

The statement also claims Daniel Vicente, the Members United candidate for Region 9 director, is ineligible for the role because he was not a member in good standing for a year prior to July's constitutional convention for not paying dues. Vicente won with 51.8% of votes in the runoff over the Curry Solidarity Team's Lauren Farrell, according to the monitor's unofficial results.

Additionally, the statement takes issue with "tens of thousands of ballots" being returned as undeliverable, differences in votes counted and received, and different enforcement of campaigning rules at turnstiles outside of places of employment.

"Unlike the election last fall, the numerous questions surrounding rampant disenfranchisement of UAW voters as well as the alleged campaign violations clearly could have affected the outcome of the run-off election for UAW President and Region 9 Director, given the very close margins between candidates in those races," the Curry Solidarity Team's statement said. "To preserve the integrity of the election process, the Monitor must immediately delay the announcement of a final result and immediately investigate these questions in a transparent process."

The Detroit News left requests for comment with the monitor's spokesperson.

"Curry's concerns are either false or irrelevant to the outcome of the election," Nathan Pensler, spokesperson for the Members United slate, said in a statement. "We are confident they will be dismissed by the Monitor and, if necessary, the Department of Labor."

Bill Bagwell Jr., a member of UAW Local 174 in Livonia and of the UAWD caucus, characterized Curry's complaint as hypocritical.

"If they wanted a smooth-running election, there could have been one, because they were in charge," he said of the Curry candidate slate. “A good number of the things on that protest, he as the president of the union should have been making sure were taken care of."

Bagwell, who was elected to serve as a delegate to the bargaining convention, said he trusts the direct election system and is confident that Fain will be declared the winner.

“What other system do we have? No other system that’s been in place all these years put us this close to even being able to elect a president," he said. "It took thieves and bribery and kickbacks and prison terms to get us to be able to vote for the president, and then the president didn’t embrace it. And now that it’s over, he wants to complain about it.”

Wayne State's Masters said Curry's complaint could lead to a protracted fight over the presidency, and that the situation stands to sow further division within the union at a time when unity is important. He foresees issues if the race's outcome is still in question when the bargaining convention begins.

“People don’t give up power easily," he said. "So I would think that the Administrative Caucus is going to exhaust every conceivable avenue that it has to contest this election.”

This is not the first time a presidential candidate has objected to a UAW election. Following the election in the fall, Mack Trucks Inc. worker Will Lehman protested, arguing the election should be extended over members not receiving their ballots and not knowing about the first directly held vote.

The UAW's bargaining convention kicks off March 27 in Detroit. Contract talks begin this summer.

“You could have a very, very complicated situation," said Masters. "And the longer it goes without being resolved, the more difficult position the union is going to be in.”


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Twitter: @JGrzelewski