UAW Solidarity House | 8000 East Jefferson Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48214 | p. (313) 926-5000
© Copyright 2013 UAW. All Rights Reserved.
Region 1D recently renamed its headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., to honor one of the UAW’s most beloved leaders. In an April 15 dedication, a curtain lifted to reveal the simple and yet significant inscription – “Owen Bieber Building” – after the union’s sixth president who hails from the region that spans Western Michigan and the state’s Upper Peninsula.
Present at the ceremony along with numerous notable UAW and community leaders, Bieber was both honored and humbled at such a gesture.
“I said to my wife, this doesn’t happen until after you don’t know about it, so I guess I’m very fortunate they decided to do this while I’m still alive and breathing,” Bieber joked.
Indeed, witnessing such joy across the face of the man who served in the union’s highest office from 1983 to 1995 was one reason Region 1D Director Gerald Kariem and Assistant Director Dave Tanney decided to honor him with the dedication.
Kariem said the idea came to him as “a blessing and a revelation,” which he quickly moved to actualize. In December 2010, just months after his election as regional director, he established a six-person committee made up of UAW and community members to plan the event.
More than 200 people gathered at the region’s headquarters to commemorate Bieber’s lifetime commitment to the cause of organized labor.
UAW President Bob King and former UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker were in attendance, as were many former Region 1D directors, including Don Oetman, Paul Mastos and Bob Fliearman. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell joined many other area community leaders in honoring the North Dorr, Mich., native, who has been widely described as a man of character and integrity.
Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who was unable to make it to Grand Rapids, sent the region a letter sharing some of his fond memories regarding the UAW’s President Emeritus. “I can think of no one more deserving of this honor. Owen has made it his life’s work to fight for workers’ rights both in the United States and around the world,” Levin wrote.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams wrote directly to Bieber, similarly highlighting the international solidarity work which the legendary leader made a clear priority at a time when many labor unions remained largely insular and isolated from one another.
Williams reminded Bieber of this in his letter.
“Your tangible support for the Polish union Solidarnosc as it struggled toward freedom from Communist oppression, and your passionate leadership of the entire U.S. labor movement in working to free South African trade union leader Moses Mayeskiso and African National Congress Leader Nelson Mandela will forever be hallmarks of your legacy,” Williams wrote.
The rededication ceremony allowed those on whom Bieber made an impact to honor the strides he made, as well as giving them the opportunity to show their gratitude for his unfailing dedication to organized labor.
The ceremony included the presentation of the building’s facade now graced with the President Emeritus’ name and a reception at which many took the opportunity to share words with the labor leader.
Sponsored by various organizations and individuals, a commemorative book was given out at the event, with all proceeds donated to the “Spirit of Solidarity” National Labor Monument. Situated in the heart of Grand Rapids, it’s the only labor monument located near a presidential museum and was established by Bieber and the late President Gerald R. Ford.
Now all members of Region 1D can reflect on Owen Bieber’s life and legacy, as well as take pride in their hometown hero.