The United Auto Workers union Wednesday elected Stephen Yokich as its new president to succeed Owen Bieber, who is retiring after a 12-year reign.
Yokich, 59, formerly vice president in charge of the UAW's division at General Motors Corp., was elected in a voice vote with no dissent at the union's national convention here.
He is expected to work aggressively to preserve jobs and benefits at Detroit's Big Three auto makers and mount new organizing drives at suppliers and foreign-owned auto assembly plants.
"You can rest assured he will challenge all of us to do our very best," said Robert Reidt, president of UAW Local 155 in Warren, Mich.
Yokich, who engineered a series of recent strikes against GM, the world's largest auto maker, ran unopposed.
He will take the top spot at the union in an era marked by increased pressure to cut costs and new demands from an influx of younger, better-educated workers.
He favors traditional union contracts with strong language and work rules over the Japanese-style "modern operating agreements" that auto makers have pressed for in recent years.
Yokich comes from a family with deep union roots and was named a regional staff member in Detroit in 1969. Since then he has bargained with agricultural implement makers, Ford and GM.
"He has a reputation of being a firebrand and at times he lives up to that," said Harley Shaiken, a labor relations professor at UC Berkeley. "The flip side of that is that he lives up to the agreements he signs. He may be tough, but he brings stability."
Delegates to the convention also elected several other top officers, including two new vice presidents, Richard Shoemaker and Jack Leskowski, and a new secretary-treasurer, Roy Wyse.
Ernest Lofton, 63, was reelected vice president in charge of the Ford Motor Co. department.
Shoemaker, 55, is expected to replace Yokich as the officer in charge of the UAW's relations with GM. He was previously Bieber's top staff assistant.
Union officials said Shoemaker also will take over responsibility for resolving a yearlong strike at earthmoving equipment maker Caterpillar Inc., replacing William Casstevens, who is retiring as secretary-treasurer.
Leskowski, 54, previously the UAW's regional director for western and northern Michigan in Grand Rapids, is expected to head the union's Chrysler department, succeeding the retiring Stan Marshall.