© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News Partners

Former UAW President Owen Bieber Dies At 90

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Owen Bieber, the former president of the United Auto Workers, has died at the age of 90. Bieber led the UAW through a recession, industry downsizing, also expanding global competition. From Michigan Radio, Steve Carmody reports.

STEVE CARMODY, BYLINE: Owen Bieber was the son of a UAW member. He rose through the union's ranks, becoming president in 1983. Bieber held the job until 1995. Current UAW president Rory Gamble says Bieber was not afraid of tough battles. Often, those tough battles were political. Later in life in an interview recorded by the UAW, Bieber stressed the role of the UAW in pushing a national political agenda to strengthen unions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OWEN BIEBER: We can see what has happened to the middle class of America, and the middle class is our members. We see what's happened when we elected the wrong people to office.

CARMODY: The negotiating table was another battlefield. Arthur Schwartz (ph) is a former labor negotiator for General Motors. He credits Bieber with leading the union during a challenging time of foreign competition in the 1980s and early '90s.

ARTHUR SCHWARTZ: This is when Honda and Toyota and Nissan were coming out, and the Detroit Three were losing market share. And so he was president during a rather rough time. And he did a pretty good job leading the UAW for the time he was president.

CARMODY: But the turbulent economic times took their toll. Harley Shaiken is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He specializes in the history of America's unions. Shaiken says the UAW was weaker at the end of Bieber's time as president.

HARLEY SHAIKEN: But that wasn't the fault of Owen Bieber. That was the restructuring of the industry, of the economy.

CARMODY: Perhaps Bieber's most lasting legacy was the leadership he showed away from the assembly line. Owen Bieber threw his union's support behind the emerging free trade union movement in eastern Europe and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. And at home, he stressed the need to teach young people in the U.S. about the value of unions.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Carmody. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.