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UAW leaders give nod to Williams as next president

United Auto Workers (UAW) Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams addresses the membership during the UAW Constitutional Convention in Detroit,
United Auto Workers (UAW) Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams addresses the membership during the UAW Constitutional Convention in Detroit,

By Bernie Woodall

DEARBORN, Michigan (Reuters) - Dennis Williams, the secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, is the choice of the union's leaders to be its next president, the UAW announced on Thursday.

Williams, 60, will stand for formal election at the UAW's convention next June.

Williams indicated that he will carry on the mainly non-confrontational approach toward negotiating with the companies with UAW members, including the three major U.S. automakers, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC, a unit of Italy's Fiat.

"I'm not afraid of confrontation," Williams said in a press conference announcing his nomination. "But I think the best way to handle dealing with corporations or anybody in life is you sit down and you talk."

Current UAW President Bob King said that Williams was an integral part of the union's strategy and negotiations with the three major U.S. automakers that are the heart of its membership in the 2011 talks.

In upcoming negotiations, Williams said, "I think people will find my demeanor very businesslike with corporations. They will find me very frank with them."

King will not run for re-election in keeping with the union's practice of not allowing anyone aged 65 and older to run for office.

Williams was selected Thursday by about 300 members of the union's administrative caucus, which is also called the Reuther Caucus, named for the UAW's president from 1946 to 1970. Since Walter Reuther became president, the UAW candidate endorsed by the administrative caucus has always gone on to win election as president.

The caucus, consisting of UAW national and local officers and members from around the United States, met Thursday at a hotel in Dearborn near Ford's global headquarters.

The next president's four-year term will be marked by potentially contentious contract talks with U.S. automakers, pressure to organize foreign-owned plants in the United States and to maintain members in "right-to-work" states.

Adding members will also be a priority. UAW membership has gained slightly under King's leadership, but its numbers are down 31 percent since 2005.

Williams has been the secretary-treasurer of the union since 2010, and before that was based in Chicago as regional director for an area stretching from Illinois to Wyoming.

The rest of the slate is Gary Casteel, now regional director in the Southeast, as secretary-treasurer; incumbent vice presidents Cindy Estrada and Jimmy Settles; and regional director Norwood Jewell as vice president.

The union is cutting the number of vice presidents to three from four.

If elected, Williams will be a one-term president, the second one in a row following King, who became president in 2010. Williams indicated he would retire along with Settles, who at 63 cannot be endorsed by the caucus again.

When asked about what the nomination meant to him, Williams, a former U.S. Marine, choked back tears.

"I love this union," said Williams. "I love what it stands for."

Williams, who has been a high-ranking member of the UAW for more than two decades, said he still likes to rub shoulders with rank-and-file plant workers.

"I still love the smell of the plant coffee and the smoke in the factory and walking up to that UAW members and saying 'brother' or 'sister'."

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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