DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- The United Auto Workers has nominated a longtime union organizer as its next president.
Dennis Williams has been the UAW's secretary-treasurer for the last three years. Williams, a Marine Corps veteran, joined the union in 1977 as a welder with J.I. Case in Rock Island, Ill. He joined the union's national organizing department in 1988 and has negotiated contracts with Mitsubishi, Caterpillar and other companies.
The UAW's leadership nominated Williams unanimously at a meeting near Detroit on Thursday.
UAW members will elect a new president at the union's national convention in Detroit in June. Other candidates may choose to run, but no one has ever become president of the UAW without the leadership's endorsement.
The union's current president, Bob King, is retiring after one four-year term.
King said Williams was an integral part of bargaining with the Detroit automakers in 2011. He also noted that Williams was the first UAW leader to endorse Barack Obama's presidential bid and maintains a good relationship with the president.
Williams said Thursday he was humbled by the nomination.
"I love this union, I love what it stands for," Williams said. "I still love the smell of the plant coffee and the smoke in the factory and walking up to the UAW member and saying 'brother' or 'sister.'"
If elected, Williams would inherit a union that is growing again as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler return to profitability after the recession. The UAW's membership rose less than 1 percent to 382,513 last year, its highest level since 2008. But that's still a fraction of the 1.5 million members it had at its peak in 1979.
The union remains focused on organizing the U.S. factories of foreign automakers including Volkswagen and Nissan, Williams said.
He wouldn't say what the union will focus on in its 2015 negotiations with the Detroit automakers, but he said he wants the companies to remain competitive. The union has raised the ire of some workers for supporting lower wages for new hires and more flexible work rules that save the companies money.
"I'm not afraid of confrontation, but I think the best way to handle dealing with corporations or anybody in life is that you sit down and you talk," he said.
The union's leaders nominated Gary Casteel, a regional director, to replace Williams as secretary-treasurer. Another regional director, Norwood Jewell, was nominated for vice president to replace Joe Ashton and General Holiefield, who are retiring. Incumbent vice presidents Jimmy Settles and Cindy Estrada were nominated to retain their positions.