Publish date:
Updated on

Autoworkers union head joins Chrysler board

At the annual meeting of the Chrysler Corporation on this day in 1980, stockholders vote to appoint Douglas Fraser, president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW), to one of 20 seats on Chrysler’s board of directors. The vote made Fraser the first union representative ever to sit on the board of a major U.S. corporation.

Born in 1916 in Glasgow, Scotland, to a strongly unionist father, Fraser was brought to the United States at the age of six. After dropping out of high school, he was fired from his first two factory jobs for trying to organize his fellow workers. Fraser then got a job at a Chrysler-owned DeSoto plant in Detroit that was organized by the UAW. Quickly promoted through union ranks, Fraser caught the eye of UAW president Walter Reuther. He worked as Reuther’s administrative assistant during the 1950s, a groundbreaking period during which the UAW solidified policies on retirement pensions and medical and dental care for its members. Well liked by Reuther, with whom he shared a similar philosophy of unionism as social action, Fraser became a member of the union’s executive board in 1962 and a vice president in 1970. Reuther died in an airplane crash that year, and Leonard Woodcock won a narrow vote over Fraser to become UAW president. Fraser succeeded Woodcock in 1977.

The late 1970s were turbulent times for the American auto industry: Rising fuel prices and the popularity of fuel-efficient Japanese-made cars had crippled sales, and Chrysler–known for its big, gas-guzzling cars–faced possible bankruptcy. In 1979-80, Fraser played a key role in getting Chrysler a $1.5 billion bailout from the U.S. government, negotiating a deal that called for hourly workers at Chrysler to accept wage cuts of $3 per hour (to $17) and giving the company permission to shed nearly 50,000 of its U.S. jobs. In a controversial move that was viewed with trepidation from both sides of the labor-management divide, Chrysler’s chief executive, Lee Iacocca, nominated Fraser to the company’s executive board. The stockholders voted in Fraser on May 13, 1980–three days after U.S. Treasury Secretary G. William Miller announced the approval of the Chrysler bailout.

Chrysler’s subsequent turnaround–the company paid off its government loans ahead of schedule and posted record profits of some $2.4 billion in 1984–seemed to justify Fraser’s willingness to make compromises on the labor side. Some critics, however, saw the union leader’s actions as opening the door to a wave of similar concessionary bargaining on the part of automakers that later spread to management in other industries. Fraser retired as UAW president in 1983 and left the Chrysler board the following year. He died in February 2008, at the age of 91.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Pope John Paul II shot

Near the start of his weekly general audience in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II is shot and seriously wounded while passing through the square in an open car. The assailant, 23-year-old escaped Turkish murderer Mehmet Ali Agca, fired four shots, one of which hit the more

Mary Queen of Scots defeated

At the Battle of Langside, the forces of Mary Queen of Scots are defeated by a confederacy of Scottish Protestants under James Stewart, the regent of her son, King James VI of Scotland. During the battle, which was fought out in the southern suburbs of Glasgow, a cavalry charge more

Jamestown settlers arrive

Some 100 English colonists arrive along the west bank of the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. Dispatched from England by the London Company, the colonists had sailed across the Atlantic aboard the Susan more

Paris peace talks at standstill

Still deadlocked, the Vietnam peace talks in Paris enter their fourth year. The talks had begun with much fanfare in May 1968, but almost immediately were plagued by procedural questions that impeded any meaningful progress. Even the seating arrangement was disputed: South more

First Battle of the Sexes

On May 13, 1973, during the early years of the women’s liberation movement, tennis stars Bobby Riggs and Margaret Court face off in a $10,000 winner-take-all challenge match. The 55-year-old Riggs, a tennis champion from the late 1930s and 40s who was notoriously skeptical of more

The inventor of western swing dies

Bob Wills, one of the most influential musicians in the history of country-western music, is born on a small farm near Kosse, Texas. Born James Robert Wills in 1905, he was trained to be a musician from an early age. His father was a champion fiddle player, and he began giving more

A raid is set for MOVE headquarters

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, police begin evacuating people from their Osage Avenue homes in order to prepare for an operation against MOVE, a radical cult group that had assembled a large arsenal. By the end of the confrontation, 11 people were dead and 61 homes had been more

Grant moves on Jackson, Mississippi

Union General Ulysses S. Grant advances toward the Mississippi capital of Jackson during his bold and daring drive to take Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. In April, Grant had moved his troops down the Mississippi River and around the Vicksburg more

Vice President Nixon is attacked

During a goodwill trip through Latin America, Vice President Richard Nixon’s car is attacked by an angry crowd and nearly overturned while traveling through Caracas, Venezuela. The incident was the dramatic highlight of trip characterized by Latin American anger over some of more