DETROIT – Ruben Burks, the first African American International UAW Secretary-Treasurer, died Monday.
His work began as an assembler at the former General Motors Fisher Body Plant 2 in Flint in 1955. Burks joined UAW Local 598 and moved up through the ranks.
Burks was appointed to be an International Representative in Region 1C in 1970. By 1989, he was the director of Region 1C. He was in that position for three terms.
According to officials, he restructured the Community Action Program to emphasize issue education and recruiting and training UAW members to work as volunteers in campaigns in the region.
He assumed the Secretary-Treasurer role in 1998 and held that position until 2002.
Burks also helped the Flint community.
Officials said he held a leadership post in Flint Genesee County Economic Development. He was also the first labor leader to chair the Board of Trustees of the United Way of Genesee and Lapeer counties in 1991.
Other roles Burks held included director of the Flint Urban League, director of Goodwill Industries of Flint, an advisory board member of the University of Michigan-Flint, and a leader with the UAW-General Motors Community Health Care Initiative in Flint. Burks was also involved in the Special Olympics, March of Dimes, Red Cross and Easter Seals.
“It is never easy losing a member of the UAW family, and it is especially hard when it is someone like my union brother Ruben Burks, who gave so much to members and the union that he loved,” said UAW President Rory L. Gamble. “He was a gentleman, and a fighter for what is right and just. I am forever thankful for his leadership and his friendship.”
Burks received an honorary degree in Community Development from Mott Community College for his contributions to Flint.
In June 2014, Region 1C merged with Region 1D. In December 2017, Local 598 renamed its union hall Ruben Burks Hall to honor his decades of leadership.
“Ruben Burks will always be here in spirit,” said UAW Region 1D Director Steve Dawes. “He was a soft-spoken man who was always here when we needed him. He was full of wisdom and never stopped fighting for active and retired UAW members and all working people.”