The UAW International Executive Board is saddened by the passing today of our brother and former UAW Vice President Cal Rapson.
Rapson’s career as a trade unionist and community leader began in 1965 when he joined UAW Local 659 while working at the General Motors Chevrolet Engine Plant in Flint, Michigan. A Michigan State University (MSU) student at the time, Rapson intended only to work one summer shift at GM. Instead, he committed a lifetime to helping advance the UAW’s fight for social and economic justice. In 2008 MSU recognized Rapson with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree for his life’s work and dedication to labor.
“Our brother, Cal Rapson, always described himself as a Flint man, but he was far more than that,” said UAW President Rory L. Gamble. “He was an activist, a dedicated leader and a fighter for UAW members and America’s working families.”
A journeyman machine repair/machinist, Rapson was outspoken in his passion for workers’ rights and unapologetic in his zeal for delivering the best possible results to the UAW membership at the bargaining table.
Before his appointment to the International staff, Rapson’s union activism led to various elected positions in Local 659, including top negotiator for Sub-Council 9. In 1982 he was elected chair of the national negotiation team that successfully bargained the 1982 Master Agreement between the UAW and GM.
In 1988 he served as coordinator of Active Training Programs at the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources. In 1989 Rapson was appointed by then-UAW Vice President Stephen P. Yokich as an administrative assistant in the union’s GM Department. He played a key role in negotiating the 1990 and 1993 national agreements at GM. He was assistant director of UAW Region 1C from 1995 to 1998, when he was elected regional director.
Rapson was elected a vice president of the International union in June 2002. He was elected to a second term as vice president on June 14, 2006, at the union’s 34th Constitutional Convention in Las Vegas and served as director of the UAW GM, Delphi, Skilled Trades and Veterans Departments.
In his first term as vice president, he directed the union’s Aerospace, Agricultural Implement and General Dynamics departments, as well as those representing UAW members at Lear, Guide Corp. and American Axle. In that term he also directed the union’s national Skilled Trades, Veterans, Chaplaincy, Conservation, Recreation and Consumer Affairs Departments.
Rapson’s legacy includes the UAW Cal Rapson Endowed Scholarship & Fellowship for eligible students at Michigan State University whose parent or guardian is a UAW member.
“We will always remember Brother Rapson for his many contributions and for never giving up the UAW’s fight for all working families and for his lifetime of service to our union,” President Gamble said.
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