It was disheartening if not surprising to hear newly appointed UAW President Ray Curry cling to the notion that the union's members should not have a direct voice in the election of their leaders.
Curry told reporters that UAW leadership continues to "believe the current delegate system represents every local union around the country having the ability to elect their respective delegates to attend constitutional convention events and bargaining conventions and, as the need may arise under the constitution, any emergency meeting that would need to be facilitated," he said. "We would advocate for that to continue to be in process."
If the largest corruption scandal in the UAW's history — one that sent two former presidents and 13 others to prison through a virtual cornucopia of grift and avarice — could not convince Curry or his predecessor, Rory Gamble, that the current indirect election system needed an overhaul, then nothing will. And that might be the point: If Curry or Gamble were to advocate for direct election of UAW officers, they would betray the very system that delivered each of them to the union's highest office.
But thanks to the UAW's settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the decision isn't up to Curry, Gamble or the rest of the UAW's Administrative Caucus cabal — it's up to the union's 397,000 members. They begin voting in October on whether to stay with the caucus system or let each member vote on the union's leaders. And therein lies the hope that the UAW can transform itself into a proper force for good in this industry and beyond.
We have said repeatedly that direct election of the UAW's top leadership is the key to making the union more responsive to its members and a stronger advocate for their interests. The disorganized nature of the scandal and the array of schemes involved demonstrated that top leaders were confident they would remain in power until they chose to retire — because there were no consequences for their actions outside of getting arrested.
On this Labor Day, UAW members should remember that the future of their union can be determined not by the few who spend the money, but by those who pay the dues. They should cast their ballots accordingly and ignore the protestations of those trying to hang on to power.