UAW Vice President Estrada, head of Stellantis department, to retire

Breana Noble Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Cindy Estrada, one of three vice presidents of the United Auto Workers and head of the Stellantis NV department, will retire at the end of her term, she wrote in a letter to members on Monday.

The retirement of Estrada, 53, after 26 years with the international union marks the departure of another experienced leader in the union ahead of critical labor negotiations next year with the Detroit Three automakers that are in the midst of a historic transformation toward electric vehicles that could jeopardize jobs.

UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada

"As I complete my term, I will continue my work on strategic national organizing campaigns in the EV sector to demand that new EV work be union built and existing members in the traditional technologies are not abandoned," Estrada wrote. "The new economy must create good union jobs, racial justice, benefit the communities and protect our planet."

Estrada's departure at the end of 2022 will come following the union's first direct election of the international executive board. Members in November voted to amend the UAW's constitution to change their delegate-based election system to "one member, one vote" after a years-long corruption scandal that resulted in convictions of 15 people, including two former UAW presidents, and subjected the union to a court-appointed monitor for six years.

Estrada herself drew the attention of federal agents investigating corruption in fall 2017. At the time, Estrada had a premier appointment as the first woman and Latina overseeing the union’s department for General Motors Co.

That fall, investigators expanded a corruption investigation to include Estrada’s predecessor — Joe Ashton, former UAW vice president and GM director — and UAW training centers funded by all three Detroit automakers.

At the time, investigators were interested in Ashton and Estrada. The investigation was focused on whether training funds were misappropriated, and if labor leaders at GM and Ford received money or benefits through their tax-exempt nonprofits.

Estrada, like most UAW leaders, had a vanity nonprofit. Ashton was later charged and convicted of corruption and is serving a 30-month federal prison sentence.

Estrada was never charged but her fortunes faltered. She viewed herself as a potential future president of the UAW, but was reassigned to the union’s department for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, the predecessor to Stellantis, in 2018, a move viewed by many industry insiders as a demotion.

Estrada also headed organizing and the women's department. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Estrada was drawn to the labor movement during an organizing internship with the United Farm Workers. She began organizing auto suppliers with UAW Region 1A based in Taylor and was appointed to the international's organizing staff in 2000. She was elected vice president in 2010.

"A common thread through it all has been an urgent need to support the membership, organize the unorganized and build a better tomorrow for our families and communities," Estrada said. "The work is not done, but I believe the time has come for me to make space for the next generation of leaders of our great union."

Estrada's departure follows others. Terry Dittes, head of the GM department, announced last week his retirement this summer. His and Estrada's exits follow those last year of former UAW President Rory Gamble and Gerald Kariem, the former head of the Ford Motor Co. department.

It's tradition for leaders to retire when they turn 65. Gamble and Kariem were both 65, and Dittes would've turned 65 during another term if he were re-elected.

Personnel changes atop the UAW were expected after the union agreed to prolonged oversight by the federal government. Lawyer Neil Barofsky was appointed in May 2021 to oversee the union and root out corruption.

The court-appointed union watchdog is empowered “to bring charges seeking to discipline, remove, suspend, expel, fine or forfeit the benefits ... of any UAW International officer,” according to the union’s oversight agreement with federal prosecutors. In a six-month report released in November, Barofsky disclosed he had 15 open investigations into misconduct.

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