Former UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker passed away Friday March 12 at the age of 81. Shoemaker served as UAW Vice President for three terms including an assignment overseeing the UAW General Motors Department.
Shoemaker, born on October 6, 1939, joined the UAW in 1957 right out of high school when he began working at Deere & Co. Harvester Works in East Moline, Illinois where his father worked.
“In those days, you really had a choice whether you wanted to go to school or whether you wanted to spend a career in the plant,” Shoemaker told the Associated Press in 2005. “You were pretty secure in those days if you hired in at one of the major manufacturing plants.”
As a member of Local 865 at Deere, he was soon elected to leadership positions at the local and, at age 27, became Local 865’s youngest president. In 1969, UAW President Walter Reuther appointed Shoemaker as an International Representative, a position he served in until 1980. That year, he was elevated to assistant director of UAW Region 4.
Two years later he was appointed administrative assistant to UAW Vice President Stephen P. Yokich and in 1984, UAW President Owen Bieber appointed him to be his top administrative assistant. Five years later, he became President Bieber’s executive administrative assistant. In 1995, 1998 and 2002, Shoemaker was elected vice president of the UAW.
In 2003, under Shoemaker’s guidance as lead General Motors negotiator, the UAW won a contract with GM that maintained full employer-paid health care for active and retired members; delivered solid economic gains for active and retired members; and added new health and safety protections in UAW-GM workplaces. The union also won investment and new business commitments to enhance job and income security for UAW members at Delphi.
“In many ways Dick Shoemaker’s skills at the bargaining table are a pattern still followed today. Dick never went to the table without thorough preparation and knowledge of what he would be facing. He was always clear about the goals and outcomes he knew his members and their families needed,” said UAW President Rory L. Gamble. “As a staff member, top aide to the UAW President and later a UAW Vice President with major assignments including General Motors, Dick Shoemaker left an indelible mark on UAW members and their families. Perhaps his lasting legacy is the numerous International Staff whom he mentored and who refer to his lessons and his wisdom even today. The UAW mourns the passing of one of our great leaders and our condolences go out to Dick’s family.”
Shoemaker directed the union’s Agricultural Implement Department from 1995 through 2002. He also led the UAW’s bargaining team in negotiating a new agreement that successfully ended the union’s historic 6½-year struggle with Caterpillar.
As a UAW Vice President, Shoemaker directed the UAW Michigan Community Action Program (CAP), which coordinates political and social action campaigns for active and retired UAW members in the state of Michigan.
He retired in 2006.
Throughout his career, Shoemaker served on numerous community boards and was a member of many political and economic committees and organizations, including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC); Michigan State AFL-CIO; National Safety Council; Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund; Character Education Partnership; Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Inc.; and Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan. He was a member of the MEDC Executive Committee; Democratic National Committee; Michigan Democratic Party; ACLU; and a life member of the NAACP.
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