Laura Dickerson continues family tradition of union work as UAW regional director

As a Labor Day baby, Laura Dickerson believed being involved in union work was her destiny. 

Growing up, the Detroit native was part of a union family. She remembered watching her father, the late Wayne County sheriff deputy William Dickerson, going off to union meetings and advocating for changes, like fighting for minority workers to be given opportunities to advance to high-ranking positions within the sheriff’s department. William Dickerson was killed in the line of duty in 1991 and the William Dickerson Detention Facility in Hamtramck is named in his honor. 

“I can recall as a child, they had a case in which there were minority officers who were not given an opportunity to take the advanced testing for the higher level positions of sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander, and so, they had a grievance that turned into an arbitration, for which they won,” Dickerson said. “When you look at that department today and you see Black officers in these higher level positions, it makes me think of him and some of the work that he did in his union.”

Today, Dickerson, 53, of Farmington Hills, is carrying on her father’s passion for helping others with her role as Region 1A director for the UAW. Dickerson was elected in 2021 to finish out the remaining term of former Region 1A Director Chuck Browning and was re-elected in December 2022. 

The promotion came after more than 20 years of working within the organization. Dickerson first joined the UAW in 1997 as a member of UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, going on to hold positions including president of the Local 600 Technical, Office and Professionals (TOP) Advisory Council, UAW Staff Council Vice President and assistant director of Region 1A, according to the UAW website. Region 1A has 150,000 active and retired members and covers most of Wayne, Monroe and Washtenaw counties, extending to the Ohio border.

As regional director, Dickerson is the first Black woman to hold that title and is the first Black woman to be elected to the International Executive Board. 

Dickerson talked to BridgeDetroit about the responsibilities she feels as a Black woman in her role, how Ford, General Motors and Stellantis members are preparing to go on strike and her Labor Day (and birthday) plans. 

*Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity 

Q: What does it mean to be the first Black woman in your role? What responsibilities come with that title?

A: It’s one of those things that you embrace and sometimes you have to pinch yourself. But I will say this–the focus was not that, it was doing the work. I have been part of this union for over 25 years in several different positions. I’ve done all the necessary things to get to this point and be able to steer the membership. So, I do embrace being the first and I take that seriously because I definitely don’t want to be the last. I want to make sure that there are women that follow me, which we have a couple right now that got elected after me to the board. Being the first, I do wear that with such pride because it goes down in our history. And I want to be known for the work that I did versus just being the first. 

It’s a huge responsibility in making sure that our folks are getting good contracts, which include good wages, good benefits, making sure that they continue to have work at their facilities, so that they continue to get a paycheck. All of those things come into play as we negotiate contracts. But the responsibility is making sure that our people have jobs and they continue to work.

Q: As Region 1A director, what are some of your responsibilities? 

A: I’m responsible for 20 local (unions) within our region. We have some major facilities; the Rouge (Ford Complex), which is part of Local 600, Flat Rock Assembly Plant, Local 3000, Michigan Assembly Plant, Local 900. We have numerous facilities that span across not just the Big Three, but we have a number of IPS facilities, which are Independent Part Suppliers. We have TOP, Technical, Office and Professionals, higher education. 

As the director, you’re responsible for all of the contracts. You have servicing staff, so I have a staff of nine. I oversee all of that and even at times, going into negotiations to close agreements. I’m also watching over and advising our grievances, and then making sure that those things have to be arbitrated on. Daily, you have speaking engagements and then serving on the executive board and making decisions for the overall union that drive and impact all of our membership. 

Q: You’ve held this position for two years. What goals did you have going into the role?

A: No. 1, was to grow the region, which is growing the union overall. And also to strengthen the union and make sure that people know that the region is there, if their director is there for them. It is not just a role, it’s a huge responsibility I take very seriously and making sure that I take care of the members within our region.

Q: How is your region managing the potential of Ford, General Motors and Stellantis workers going on strike? 

A: We are preparing within the region, just making sure that our leadership, our presidents and our chairmen, are prepared. We are at the point of getting ready for the (contract) deadline, which is Sept.14. If we should go on strike, we’re ready. It’s a powerful tool to use to show the companies that the membership is willing to strike to get better benefits. better wages, better working conditions.

For myself and my staff, we are in a supportive mindset right now, making sure that the various plants and locations have what they need, and also knowing that we will be out there with them. 

Q: The UAW continues to be a male-dominated organization. Do you feel like that’s changing as you and other women like (Region 1 Director) LaShawn English move up within the company?

A: Yeah, I do. I think some of that is changing. You have LaShawn, you have (UAW Secretary-Treasurer) Margaret Mock there. For the first time, you have three Black women sitting on the International Executive Board. I’m very proud in my region of the support that I get from the membership within Region 1A, that they have the confidence in me to lead the region. And the fact that I’m a woman, really never comes into play. It may have at first, but they definitely don’t say that now. 

Q: With Labor Day approaching, what is the legacy for Michigan and Detroit specifically in union work and standing up for collective bargaining? 

A: Michigan, we have a lot to be proud of. We repealed right-to-work, being one of the first states in over 50 years to do that. And we’ve also been able to do a lot with prevailing wages, especially as it relates to construction jobs. And Detroit has always been referred to as the Motor City and we have our Big Three automakers there. As we look to Labor Day, as we look to the future…we’re stronger together. And that we’re strong in strategy and mindset as we move into this Labor Day. And then knowing right after Labor Day, that we have the deadline for these contracts. So, it can be a defining moment for labor within the UAW. But just knowing that we are stronger together is where we need to be.

Q: And since your birthday is on Labor Day, what are your plans? 

A: I plan to be at the Labor Day march. I think that it is a great honor to be able to do that, as we celebrate the strength of our union and the strength of labor in general. Labor Day 2023, we have these potential strikes looming but I’m also able to celebrate my birthday with all of my union brothers and sisters.

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