The leadership of the United Auto Workers is set to meet next week to name Bob King as the preferred candidate to succeed retiring President Ron Gettlelfinger, two people with knowledge of the plan said.

King, 63, who has headed negotiations with Ford, would be named as the preferred candidate by the UAW's top leaders at a meeting set for Wednesday, according to the sources, who could not be named because the plan remains private.

UAW spokesman Roger Kerson declined to comment.

King, now a UAW vice president, has long been seen as the likely successor to Gettelfinger, 65, even after a recent deal he negotiated with Ford failed to win support among workers in a rare setback for union leadership.

King's appointment would be subject to a vote at a UAW convention set for June next year, but the candidate backed by the union's leadership has traditionally sailed through that process without serious opposition.

King, a soft-spoken U.S. Army veteran who joined Ford in 1970, has been an advocate of the policies pursued by Gettelfinger over the past four years that offered concessions to the U.S. automakers at a time of deepening financial problems for the industry.

King was the central figure in negotiating a new round of proposed concessions for Ford in October.

In a rebuke to UAW leadership, that proposed deal was overwhelmingly rejected by UAW-represented workers at Ford who objected to a no-strike clause on wages and benefits.

Gettelfinger, who has served two terms as UAW president, oversaw a period in which membership declined and wages and benefits for new hires were rolled back in a series of landmark agreements intended to shore up the competitiveness of GM, Ford and Chrysler.

Under Gettelfinger, the union also emerged as a major investor in both Chrysler and GM when the Obama administration put both of those companies through federally funded bankruptcies.


UAW membership peaked at near 1.5 million in 1979 and has been declining since.

Since 2001, when Gettelfinger was first endorsed by the UAW's administrative caucus to succeed Steve Yokich as president, the union has lost over a third of its membership.

For 2007, the last year for which data were immediately available, the UAW had about 465,000 members, the lowest total since 1941.

The same caucus of top union leaders that picked Gettelfinger is expected to meet behind closed doors next week in Detroit to endorse King as the union's 10th president, the sources said.

Gettelfinger also began his career at Ford.

If the union follows recent practice, the next step would be a June voice vote to elect King at a union convention.

One can never take anything for granted, but this is a strong indicator, said Harley Shaiken, a labor law professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Shaiken said King is largely expected to be much of the same style of leader as Gettelfinger, with whom he is closely allied. Bob King has worked closely with Ron Gettelfinger who led the union through some awfully tough times, he said.

Tiffany Ten Eyck, a commentator with the publication Labor Notes, said she expected that rank-and-file UAW members could push back at the choice of King after concessions that have brought wages for new hires to $14 per hour.

With King, there will be no change in direction of the union, said Ten Eyck, whose publication is not affiliated with the UAW.

The UAW owns 17.5 percent of General Motors Co and 55 percent of Chrysler through a trust fund for retiree health care benefits. Chrysler is being run by Fiat SpA.

A graduate of the University of Michigan in 1968, King attended law school while working at Ford. He received a law degree from the University of Detroit in 1973.

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki and Bernie Woodall, additional reporting by David Bailey; editing by Andre Grenon, Ted Kerr and Carol Bishopric)