The UAW is working to rebuild trust and support of rank-and-file members at its Chrysler plants even as General Holiefield, the man who led its Chrysler department since 2006, remains in charge until his retirement in June.


Miguel Foster, director of civil and human rights for the UAW, has been visiting union leaders at Chrysler’s factories in recent weeks to see what the issues are, according to people familiar with the situation, but who can’t be named because they are not authorized to discuss it.

The union announced last week that Holiefield, 60, will retire when his four-year term ends. He would have been eligible to run for a third four-year term, but elected to retire.

“General’s retirement was made for personal reasons, and we are working very closely with General and all the officers to make sure we are really addressing members’ issues,” UAW President Bob King told the Free Press. “There is a concerted effort to really make the presence of the union and effectiveness of the union from the shop floor more visible and more acknowledged by the membership.”

Questions about Holiefield’s status with the UAW began swirling through Chrysler plants in October after his high-level aide, James Hardy, retired. King declined to say whether the UAW was investigating Holiefield, but many UAW-Chrysler members complained that Holiefield did not fight hard enough to protect seniority rights of transferred workers.

Other workers criticized him for not blocking or changing a new work schedule implemented by Chrysler over the past two years. The new schedule has two of the three work crews working every Saturday on a four-day-per-week, 10-hour shift.

The UAW also accepted much smaller signing bonuses in 2011 contract talks with Chrysler than those offered by General Motors and Ford. Chrysler management contended that its recovery was moving more slowly than those at GM and Ford.

Part of Foster’s assignment is to explore worker concerns and take action where possible within the limits of the union’s current contract with Chrysler.

Holiefield will continue to work and fulfill his duties as a vice president of the union until his term ends, King said.

“I talked to him today about two or three issues that we are working on,” King said.

In October, King told elected union officials at leadership meetings that Holiefield is still a vice president, but said the union would address any problems within his responsibilities, which would include the Chrysler department. On Nov. 6, the UAW announced that Holiefield would retire.

“I’ve put 40 years of my life into this business ... and I’ve had a wonderful time here with the UAW and with Chrysler,” Holiefield, who led, with King, the union’s contract talks with Chrysler in 2007 and 2011, said Nov. 7.

Holiefield has referred additional questions to Detroit attorney Steve Fishman, who declined to comment.

Holiefield has been a UAW member since 1973, when he went to work at Chrysler's Jefferson assembly plant in Detroit. In 2009, he worked with then-UAW President Ron Gettelfinger on cost reductions President Barack Obama’s auto task force demanded as part of Chrysler’s taxpayer-backed bankruptcy restructuring.

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