The UAW International Executive Board is deeply saddened by the passing today of beloved former UAW Secretary-Treasurer Ruben Burks.
“It is never easy losing a member of the UAW family, and it is especially hard when it is someone like my union brother Ruben Burks, who gave so much to members and the union that he loved,” said UAW President Rory L. Gamble. “He was a gentleman, and a fighter for what is right and just. I am forever thankful for his leadership and his friendship.”
Ruben Burks’ long history of unionism and advocacy for social justice started in 1955 when he began working as an assembler at the former General Motors Fisher Body Plant 2 in Flint, Michigan, where he joined UAW Local 598. He steadily rose through the ranks of the local, serving in various leadership posts, including shop committeeperson and executive board member. In 1970, then-UAW President Walter Reuther appointed Burks to be an International Representative in Region 1C. By 1989, he was the director of Region 1C and held that position for three terms.
He restructured the Community Action Program (CAP) to emphasize issue education and recruiting and training UAW members to work as volunteers in campaigns in the region.
In 1998, he became the first African American International UAW Secretary-Treasurer, a post he held until 2002. He also used his skills to help the Flint community, including holding a leadership post in Flint Genesee County Economic Development, and becoming the first labor leader to chair the Board of Trustees of the United Way of Genesee and Lapeer counties in 1991.
He also was director of the Flint Urban League, director of Goodwill Industries of Flint, an advisory board member of the University of Michigan-Flint, and a leader with the UAW-General Motors Community Health Care Initiative in Flint. Burks was also involved in the Special Olympics, March of Dimes, Red Cross and Easter Seals. He received an honorary degree in Community Development from Mott Community College in recognition and appreciation of his contributions to the Flint community.
In June 2014, Region 1C merged with Region 1D. In December 2017, Local 598 renamed its union hall Ruben Burks Hall to honor his decades of leadership.
“Ruben Burks will always be here in spirit,” said UAW Region 1D Director Steve Dawes. “He was a soft-spoken man who was always here when we needed him. He was full of wisdom and never stopped fighting for active and retired UAW members and all working people.”
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