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Celebrating Arab American Heritage Month Stephen Yokich

April is Arab American Heritage Month, and we are celebrating by highlighting influential Michiganders who have made significant contributions to communities across our state.

Stephen Yokich, of Lebanese and Syrian descent, was born in Detroit in 1935. He served as United Auto Workers (UAW) president from 1994 to 2002, after being introduced to the organization as a child when his mother took him to his first picket line at just 22 months old. Yokich also served in the United States Air Force from 1952 to 1956, and became an apprentice in 1956 at the Heidrich Tool and Die Company in Oak Park, Michigan. He joined UAW Local 155, the same locality his father had once been a shop steward at.

"Working in the same local, I went to all the meetings with my father," Yokich once said. "We would take one car, and four or five of us would all ride together to go to the meetings."

Elected as chair of his local political action committee a year after joining the union, Yokich moved up the ranks throughout his career. He was hired by legendary UAW leader Walter Reuther as a UAW Region 1 staff representative in 1969, and was eventually elected Director of Region 1 in 1977. In 1980, Yokich became international Vice President of the UAW. 

He served as head of the UAW Agricultural Department, Ford Department and GM Department before being elected president of the union in 1994. The Detroit Free Press called his impact on General Motors "astonishing." He increased the union's presence and strength among workers at GM plants significantly, agreed to tens of thousands of job cuts in exchange for higher wages and benefits, called for strategically important local strikes and built strong relationships with up-and-coming GM managers who he correctly predicted would eventually lead the company.

Yokich received the Arab American of the Year Award from the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in 1995. He was the co-recipient of the Chairman's Award for Vehicle Quality Improvement from J.D. Power and Associates in 1998. Yokich died in 2002 from a stroke.