Jason Barlow, president of UAW Local 402, stands outside the Navistar Springfield production facility on Urbana Road in August 2010. Staff photo by Marshall Gorby
Photo: Marshall Gorby
Photo: Marshall Gorby

‘He’s been a courageous leader…’, Springfield mayor says of departing Navistar UAW president

The president of the United Auto Workers Local 402 at Navistar, who helped lead the union though several years of turmoil and a subsequent recovery, is stepping down to take a new job with the UAW International Union in Toledo.

Jason Barlow has served as president of the UAW Local 402 for about a decade, he said. The union represents the majority of workers at Navistar’s Springfield plant, one of the largest employers in the area. Navistar has approximately 1,800 workers at its Springfield manufacturing plant and thousands of retirees live in the area.

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Barlow said he was most proud of working with other union leaders to develop closer ties between the union and entities like the Chamber of Greater Springfield. Despite some negative stereotypes of unions, leaders of the UAW Local 402 were able to work closely both with the company and local economic development officials in Springfield and Clark County to bring more jobs to the area while representing the company’s workforce, he said.

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“There are times when unions have been given a negative stereotype,” Barlow said. “We’ve been able to change that, especially in our community.”

In a letter to union members, Barlow said he is taking a job as an International servicing representative with the UAW International Union near Toledo. Beginning Monday, he will work with unions on various projects across Ohio and Indiana.

“Together we have seen the highs and lows of our industry and membership numbers,” Barlow said in a letter to the union’s members. “We have remained strong and continue as oldest and most successful chartered UAW Locals in the United States.

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Barlow was quick to point out he was not alone in helping the union navigate challenging times and credited other members of the union’s leadership for doing their best to represent the company’s workers.

“It was never a one-person thing,” Barlow said.

As recently as 2010, the Springfield plant had as few as 300 workers, Barlow has said.

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A particularly rough patch hit in 2012. Navistar lost a big bet on new engines that didn’t meet emission standards and faced significant fines if it didn’t abandon the technology. The company gave up ground to competitors as it struggled to recover from that blow, eventually switching to Cummins engines.

But Warren Copeland, Springfield’s mayor, said the union was willing to make tough decisions and worked with the company’s executives to turn the local plant around. The company and union reached a four-year contract in 2015 that provided job security for the plant’s workers for several years. The company has also invested millions of dollars in the facility, boosted hiring and launched partnerships with GM to build new products in Springfield. Negotiations are expected to begin for a new contract later this year.

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At one point, local officials feared the Springfield facility might even close, Copeland said.

“He’s been a courageous leader in difficult times,” Copeland said of Barlow.

Barlow initially took a job with the U.S. Postal Service after high school but joined Navistar after that agency faced cuts. Both Barlow’s father and grandfather had worked at Navistar so it was a good fit, and he quickly became involved in the union. He was first election to the union’s election committee, then eventually ran for office as a benefits representative. He lost his first election for that position by four votes, he said, but ran a year later and won the job. Barlow said his friends at the plant eventually convinced him to run for president.

Vice President Chris Blizzard will step in and fill the remainder of Barlow’s two-year term. The union will hold an election to fill Blizzard’s vacant spot, Barlow said.

“As vice president for the last 13 years, Chris is the most qualified and knowledgeable vice president our local has had and he will do a fine job continuing to lead our great local union,” Barlow said.

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