Late on Saturday, former union president Owen Bieber, also known as Willie, died at the age of 90, his family told the Workers’ Daily.
Born in 1923 in a small town in Pennsylvania, Bieber was inspired by his father and who was enrolled in a train-union training program in the 1940s. Those who attended learned that they must take several exams that included an exam involving a locomotive engine. Bieber chose that test in order to test himself before his father’s death, and he passed with flying colors.
Before his long and distinguished union career, Bieber, a lifelong Democratic Party supporter, worked as a union steward for autoworkers at a Pennsylvania mill. He then worked for Jellico, an auto parts company in Newark, New Jersey. In 1984, he was elected president of the New Jersey AFL-CIO, then elected a few years later as president of the Central Labor Council in New York City.
Bieber was also the first national vice president of the Labor Council for the United Auto Workers, starting in 1991. A year later, Bieber became the president of the entire labor organization, which became a somewhat complicated position as previous leaders had not even served as regional presidents. Bieber increased coordination in the UAW between its different regions, developing the first National Policy Alliance and organizing significant gains.
As head of the UAW, Bieber also negotiated financial support from such big names as Jimmy Carter. After he retired in 2000, he gave a poignant speech to a UAW convention, noting how his father’s legacy helped him grow. “I can say without hesitation that unionism is not just a form of capitalism but an example of freedom,” he said.