Douglas A. Fraser, 91
United Auto Workers leader
Douglas A. Fraser, who led the United Auto Workers union through dark hours in the U.S. auto industry in the 1970s and '80s, died late Saturday at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich., his wife, Winnie Fraser, said yesterday. She said he had emphysema and went into the hospital with breathing problems.
Mr. Fraser was popular with the union's rank and file, who appreciated his candor and accessibility.
"Everybody thought he was wonderful," Mrs. Fraser said. "He was a good guy."
He also was a shrewd and pragmatic negotiator who won the respect of Big Three executives. In the 1960s and '70s, he helped win such benefits as comprehensive health care and improved working conditions.
But he faced challenges as UAW president from 1977 to 1983, a period of severe financial hardship for the industry that forced the union to make unprecedented concessions.
Mr. Fraser considered his finest achievement the UAW's campaign to obtain $1.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for Chrysler Corp. in 1979, which saved the automaker from bankruptcy.
As part of the agreement for concessions, Chrysler gave Mr. Fraser a seat on its board, making him the first major union chief on the board of a large corporation. He donated his board salary to Wayne State University in Detroit.
A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Fraser proudly called himself a liberal. He marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. He supported school busing to achieve racial integration, a position strongly opposed by many of his fellow UAW members.
Mr. Fraser retired in 1983 but kept active in politics and union issues. He served as a professor in the College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs at Wayne State.