- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2008

DETROIT (AP) — Douglas A. Fraser, who led the United Auto Workers union through dark hours in the U.S. auto industry in the 1970s and ‘80s, has died. He was 91.

Mr. Fraser died late Saturday at Providence Hospital in Southfield, his wife, Winnie, said yesterday. She said he had emphysema and went into the hospital with breathing problems.

With his mischievous smile and gregarious, easygoing manner, Mr. Fraser was popular with the union’s rank and file, who appreciated his candor and accessibility. Everyone called him Doug.

“Everybody thought he was wonderful,” Winnie Fraser said. “He was a good guy, and he really was [wonderful].”

He also was a shrewd and pragmatic negotiator who won the respect of Big Three executives. In the 1960s and ‘70s, he helped win such benefits as comprehensive health care and improved working conditions.

But he faced challenges as UAW president from 1977 to 1983 — a period of severe financial hardship for the industry that forced the union to make unprecedented concessions.

Mr. Fraser considered his finest achievement the UAW’s campaign to obtain $1.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for Chrysler Corp. in 1979, which saved the automaker from bankruptcy.

Mr. Fraser’s decisions to give contract concessions to Chrysler in 1979 and to Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. in 1982 were opposed by many UAW members but contributed to the U.S. auto industry’s recovery.

As part of the agreement for concessions, Chrysler gave Mr. Fraser a seat on its board, making him the first major union chief on the board of a large corporation. He donated his board salary to Wayne State University in Detroit.

A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Fraser proudly called himself a liberal. He marched with Martin Luther King in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. He supported school busing to achieve racial integration, a position strongly opposed by many of his fellow UAW members. He pushed an often reluctant UAW and the Big Three to recruit more minorities and women. And he fought for national health insurance.

Mr. Fraser retired in 1983 but kept active in politics and union issues. He served as a professor in the College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs at Wayne State.

He also served on the boards of several organizations and as an AFL-CIO arbitrator in organizing disputes between different unions.

“He was one of those folks, one of the few people that have it,” said Mike Smith, director of the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State.

“It’s hard to describe, but he was a great labor leader and he was a fine trade unionist who segued into a second career as a professor at Wayne State,” he said.

In 2005, he spoke at a gathering marking the 70th anniversary of the union, saying globalization had brought its active and retired workers new threats that were unknown decades ago.

“Everyone thinks the toughest times were their times. I don’t think that’s so,” Mr. Fraser said. “I think the toughest times are now.”

After the UAW reached historic agreements with the Detroit automakers last fall that include a lower wage scale for new hires and the union taking on retiree health care for the companies, Mr. Fraser said the deals were necessary to keep the companies afloat and competitive with their Japanese rivals.

“I frankly don’t know any other alternative,” Mr. Fraser said in an interview in November, praising UAW President Ron Gettelfinger for finding creative ways to help the struggling companies while at the same time preserving as many UAW jobs as he could.

Mrs. Fraser said a memorial service for her husband would be scheduled later.

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