The UAW also faces a historic challenge of rebuilding not just its membership which has fallen from a high of 1.5 million in 1980 to a historic low below 470,000 but also its image.
How low the union's image has sunk became apparent during congressional hearings in late 2008, when GM and Chrysler sought federal aid. Politicians, bondholders and others over the next several months lashed out at the union and blamed it for the automakers' woes.
"The vast majority of my constituents are not making anywhere near what General Motors, Chrysler and Ford pay their employees," U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., said at the time.
It's a point of view the UAW faced repeatedly. "They think we are overpaid, lazy workers, and we are not," said Ronda Danielson, president of UAW Local 879 in St. Paul, Minn.'Low point' reached
Despite the criticisms, the UAW emerged from the crisis with a surprising amount of potential. The union protected base wages, pensions and retiree health care. And its health-care trust fund now owns 17.5 percent of GM and 67.7 percent of Chrysler.
That could give the UAW a chance to recast its image, which is critical to rebuilding membership ranks.
Bob King, who is expected to be elected president of the 75-year-old union in June, has given hints of his new strategy. He has expressed a desire to better promote the union's charitable activities, and he is signaling that the insular union will be more open and transparent.
"I think we hit the low point last year and we're on the rebound," said Mike Dunn, chairman of UAW Local 5960 in Lake Orion, Mich.
King is known as an effective organizer and strategist who has the right skills to lead the UAW as it fights to recover from the worst crisis in its history.
King, 63, led the UAW's national organizing department for eight years as vice president before taking charge of the UAW's Ford department in 2006. He is the union's nominee to become president at its constitutional convention in June.(2 of 2)
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