A Look Back at the Remarkable Legacy of Soon-to-Retire UAW-Ford Vice President Jimmy Settles

If "showing up" is the first step to success, Jimmy Settles has always been ahead of the game. Just consider his work ethic when he first began his role as UAW-Ford vice president. A longtime colleague recalls how he was determined to be the first person to arrive at the office each morning. "It went from him starting at 7 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., 6 a.m., 5:30 a.m., 5 a.m.," laughs Kevin Tolbert, assistant director at UAW-Ford, who has worked with Settles for 15 years. "He's going to outwork anybody else, he doesn't care what they say."

His employees, in turn, started showing up earlier, too. It wasn't long before early-morning meetings were the new norm. An unrelenting commitment to his work is a recurring theme when talking to colleagues of Settles, who is retiring from his position as vice president this month after a more than 50-year career with the union that began when he worked in the foundry.

Late nights were part of the job for Settles, too. Tolbert remembers an all-night bargaining session at the Detroit Diesel plant back in 2003 when a strike was imminent. "Most people get tired when you have these late sessions and people were dropping off, myself included, but Jimmy – he has an intense work ethic," he recalls. They kept at it and avoided the strike. "When there's a task at hand, you get it done – no matter what," Tolbert says. "Jimmy is very adamant about that. His work ethic has yet to be matched."

Don Godfrey, administrative assistant to Settles and executive director of the UAW-Ford National Programs Center, noticed this immediately when he started working for him seven years ago. "He never sleeps and never stops thinking about his job and doing the best he can do for the membership," Godfrey says. "He literally wakes up every day thinking what more he can do to ensure they have the best representation."

Settles' other passion is serving the community, Godfrey notes. "That's a 24/7 job for him as well," he says, particularly when it comes to improving the lives of young people in Detroit. "Himself being a lifelong Detroiter, I think he sees the lack of opportunity that school children have these days, and that's why so much of his energy and time and money are spent towards providing opportunities for kids that might not otherwise be there – in music, arts, theater, chess, debate, things that have been cut from public school funding."


The impact Settles has had on Detroit and in UAW-Ford communities around the country is seen in many programs he launched, including a free ramp initiative for those with disabilities and the Holiday Boxes of Love program that feeds hundreds of thousands of families each year. "Jimmy has just a tremendous amount of passion and love for others, particularly those less fortunate," Godfrey says. "It's always with somebody else in mind." That focus on community is key. As UAW-Ford administrative assistant Darryl Nolen puts it, "He gets it."

"Jimmy took it to a whole other level in terms of helping in and around the city of Detroit," Nolen says. "If you truly understand the labor movement back in the '30s and early '40s, our grassroots (work) was there in the community. When you fast-forward to 2018, to bring along that sense of community to the job, it just speaks volumes to him understanding and actually getting it. In order for us to be successful, we gotta be out in the community." That's exactly what Settles has made happen, Nolen explains. "His footprint is there, his DNA is there."

Forward-thinking is another way Settles is often described. He forged important partnerships including an upcoming relationship with MIT in Boston. "You expect a young millennial to come up with some of the ideas that Jimmy comes up with," Nolen says. A mentor to many, Settles expects much of those who work for him – but he gives more. "He doesn't believe in quitting, (so) I don't believe in quitting," Nolen explains. "He brings out the best in you. He has integrity. Jimmy doesn't run from anything."

And he pushes others to do the same. "His legacy will live on," Nolen says. "He set the bar in terms of the importance of giving back, in terms of being a voice for those who don't have a voice. He has the biggest heart I've ever seen."


I've spent a lot of time lately reflecting on my years here at UAW-Ford. Now that my time as vice president is ending, it's hard to look back and say, "My work here is done." The truth is I'm not sure that's ever the case when it comes to retirement. But I'm proud of the work we've done – the jobs and benefits we've fought for and saved, the agreements we've reached and the promises we've made and kept to our workers and our communities.

I'm humbled by the thanks and recognition I've received, but my pride is made tenfold by what I see right in front of my eyes: People I've worked with and mentored carving out their own paths ahead, setting their sights high and expanding on the vision we set forth years ago to build not just strong cars but also strong communities. It's a true privilege and blessing to have served, and I thank each and every person who has been a part of this incredible journey. I know there are great things ahead for UAW-Ford, for all of our communities and, most of all, for this amazing city that I call home. I won't be far, friends. Detroit is a part of me, and fighting for my home and my neighbors is a role I'll never give up.

– Jimmy Settles, Vice President, UAW-Ford

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