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UAW official who shaped labor deals during auto crisis to retire

By Deepa Seetharaman

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Holiefield, a sometimes controversial United Auto Workers official who negotiated the labor contracts that helped reshaped the U.S. auto industry, will retire next year.

The UAW announced the move on Wednesday, a day before union leaders plan to propose a slate of candidates for the UAW's top offices. UAW members will elect new leadership in June 2014, when Holiefield will hand the reins to his successor.

He was first elected as a UAW vice president representing blue-collar Chrysler Group LLC workers in 2006 and was elected a second time in 2010.

Holiefield was once considered a contender to replace past UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. That job ultimately went to current UAW chief Bob King, who will also step down next June.

During his tenure, Holiefield played a key role in crafting labor contracts that altered labor relations in Detroit and helped the three U.S. automakers, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler, return to profitability.

In 2007, he worked on the groundbreaking labor deal that relieved the U.S. automakers of their decades-long obligation to pay for blue-collar retirees' healthcare. He also worked on the 2009 deal that put Chrysler under the management control of Italian automaker Fiat following a federal bailout.

"During the nation's great economic crisis and its horrendous effect on the auto industry, General Holiefield demonstrated the leadership that helped guide Chrysler back to profitability," King said in a statement.

But Holiefield, who joined the UAW in 1973 as a Chrysler worker, had his detractors. He was criticized for accepting a 2011 UAW contract for Chrysler's blue-collar workers that was less rich than the GM and Ford deals.

He also caught flak for agreeing to what some workers described as punishing production schedules at certain Chrysler plants.

(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Gary Hill and Ken Wills)

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