What a waste.
The UAW held what should have been its most democratic election in decades, but an overwhelming majority of the union's members couldn't be troubled to even cast a ballot.
Just 11 percent of eligible members successfully voted in the leadership election this fall. The government-appointed special monitor imposed after the UAW's massive corruption scandal said that 104,776 votes were cast. That's almost 36,000 fewer than those who voted in the referendum on whether to have a leadership election in the first place, which passed almost 2 to 1.
The lack of participation in the election — as the union looks ahead to next year's negotiations with the Detroit 3 — should be viewed by membership as an embarrassment.
UAW leaders at the national and local levels bear the majority of blame for what can be considered a botched first direct election. There appeared to be little in the way of national campaigning beyond some candidate forums. Union leadership seemed openly disdainful of having to conduct an election in the first place, and that lack of enthusiasm for democracy translated directly into failed voter engagement.
Incumbent President Ray Curry and surviving challenger Shawn Fain will head to a runoff starting in January, while at least four incumbent officers lost. Whoever is ultimately elected to lead the UAW's negotiating teams in bargaining with General Motors, Ford Motor Co. or Stellantis will now do so without a clear mandate from their membership.
They will represent the whole union in theory, but just as it was under the decadeslong rule of the union's Administrative Caucus, they will do so with the expressed support of only a small minority of the members.
The 2023 Detroit 3 negotiations were already going to be contentious, if only because UAW members have seen their wages eroded by inflation while their counterparts at nonunion automakers received wage adjustments to make those jobs more competitive in a tightened labor market. Now the negotiations will take place with one side disadvantaged by questions of their relative legitimacy.
The UAW's first real experience with democracy in decades has been an epic disappointment, especially for those like us who hoped it would ultimately lead to real reform at one of the industry's most important institutions.