Jan 18 (Reuters) - Owen Bieber, who led one of the earliest attempts to bring United Auto Workers to Detroit in the 1980s, later headed the union as it endured the aftermath of that failed effort and rose to become one of its longest-serving presidents.

Bieber, who served as UAW president from 1981 to 1991, died Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan, after a brief illness, the union said. He was 85.

Bieber presided over the initial union effort to build a Detroit production facility after its forerunner, the United Automobile Workers, was wiped out by the economic crisis of the mid-1970s.

Two of those plants that Bieber organized, in the suburb of Pontiac and in the City of Detroit, never opened, although five other plants in the city opened within a decade.

After his initial efforts failed, Bieber and another UAW leader, Bob Davis, led the union’s drive to organize the United Motors Corp’s assembly plant in Flint, Michigan, in 1983. The union succeeded in winning more than 90 percent of the workers in the Flint plant.

Bieber went on to serve as director-general of the UAW’s international union and was the organization’s chief negotiator when it negotiated its first collective bargaining agreements with GM, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC from 1991 until his retirement in 2004.

Bieber survived a critical illness that had threatened his life in 2005.

A graduate of Yale and Harvard universities, Bieber worked as a consultant for A.G. Edwards Inc and Westinghouse Electric before joining the UAW in 1952.