United Auto Workers challenger holds narrow lead in race for union president

WASHINGTON, March 6 (Reuters) – Union challenger Shawn Fain is narrowly leading United Auto Workers (UAW) President Ray Curry in a runoff election, a court-appointed monitor said on Monday, but the race is too close to call.

Fain received 69,118 votes and Curry has 68,473 votes – a difference of 645 votes – but there are 1,608 unresolved challenged ballots. “The outcome of this race cannot be determined until a sufficient number of these challenged ballots are resolved,” the monitor’s office said.

The election comes at a critical time for the union.

Labor contracts with Detroit’s Big Three automakers expire in September. The UAW is working to organize new battery plants and members worry that shifting to electric vehicles will cost jobs.

Curry has been president of the UAW since June 2021, and a UAW member since 1992. Fain has been a UAW member for more than two decades, serving as an officer at a local in Indiana representing workers at a Stellantis (STLAM.MI) casting plant.

Fain, who narrowly trailed Curry in an election last year, has said UAW leaders “have been unwilling to confront the companies, and as a result we’ve seen nothing but concessions, corruption, and plant closures.”

Curry defends his tenure and says the future of the union is at stake and that he will fight to negotiate labor contracts for battery plants. “We’ve got to protect the work of the future,” he said at a candidate debate.

The UAW won a victory in December, when workers at a Ohio General Motors (GM.N)-LG Energy (373220.KS) battery cell factory voted to join the union.

UAW officers previously were elected through a delegate system. Members approved direct elections in a 2021 referendum required as part of a 2020 Justice Department settlement to resolve a corruption probe which resulted in the incarceration of two former UAW presidents.

The UAW has about 375,000 U.S. members, down from 1.5 million in 1979.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington Editing by Matthew Lewis