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Detroit holds annual Labor Day parade at high-stakes time for UAW

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Monday’s Detroit Labor Day parade was a low-key one by historical standards, despite being a high-stakes time for many unions—none more than the United Auto Workers.

The union is going through a tough time. Its leaders are under FBI investigation for possible corruption, as they try to bargain new contracts with Detroit’s three automakers.

UAW members made up a big chunk of the Labor Day parade. Some marchers emphasized the need for solidarity at this time, while others directly called out union leaders and their possible misdeeds.

Kelly Durham took a more mixed approach. The UAW Local 140 member carried a homemade sign that read “The UAW is our legacy. Preserve it.”

“We would like for the people to unite. Stand together. Preserve this great legacy. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil it for the rest of us,” Durham said.

Despite “all the indictments, and disloyalty to their members,” the union leadership needs to stay strong and remember its founding purpose: bettering the lives of auto workers, Durham said.

Martha Gravett, a member of UAW Local 869 in Warren, says she’s not focused on the “possible shady dealings of the leadership” right now. She says union members want to see concrete results from contract talks.

“Our membership is out here, and we’re ready to strike,” Gravett said. “We want to get rid of tiers. We want to stop the plant closings. And we want contract justice.”

UAW leaders called last week’s raids on President Gary Jones' and retired President Dennis Williams' homes, among other union targets, unnecessary because the union has been cooperating with government investigators. “Trust in UAW leadership is never more important than during the bargaining process, when profit-laden auto companies stand to benefit from media leaks, false assumptions, and political grandstanding,” the union said in a statement.

Jones marched for a time in Monday’s parade before making an early exit. Unlike in past years, neither UAW nor other high-profile union leaders addressed the crowd at a post-parade rally. And while some Michigan politicians, including U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Andy Levin, and Elissa Slotkin (all Democrats) marched in the parade or attended post-parade events, the parade failed to draw any national political leaders or presidential candidates, as it has in the past.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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