DETROIT — UAW President Dennis Williams will retire this week after more than 40 years with the union, including a contentious, yet productive, four-year term as its leader.
A straight-shooting Midwesterner, Williams rose through the union's ranks without ever being a vice president. Instead, he was its secretary-treasurer — a nontraditional path to the top post.
Williams, 65, was expected to be a more disciplined, business-oriented leader than his predecessor, Bob King, who was at times too idealistic for his own good.
But Williams' legacy likely won't be what many expected when he was elected to lead the union in June 2014.
Nearly every one of his achievements was followed, or overshadowed, by tumultuous contract negotiations, failed organizing efforts and a federal investigation.
Those setbacks, along with an increasingly frustrated membership after years of stagnant wages and the union's first dues increase in nearly 50 years, made it difficult for the union to highlight many of Williams' accomplishments.
And there were accomplishments. Williams restructured the UAW's regions, cut costs, instituted budgets by departments and balanced the union's books. This week at the UAW Constitutional Convention, where his successor will be elected, he is expected to report that for the first time "in recent memory" the union is operating in the black.
"The strategies have been working," he told reporters last month during a quarterly roundtable discussion — another nontraditional tactic he and his staff employed to be more transparent with media and membership.