(Bloomberg) -- United Auto Workers President Ray Curry failed to secure a new four-year term in the union’s first ever direct election, setting up a runoff to lead union members in contract talks with Detroit automakers next year.

About 106,790 ballots were cast, or around 1/10th of the UAW’s 1 million members, according to unofficial results from the federal monitor who ran the election. Curry garnered 34,592 votes, or 32%, with 84% of the votes counted, as of 5:38 p.m. New York time Friday. Shawn Fain, backed by Unite All Workers for Democracy, a reform group within the union, had 34,412 votes.

Candidates need 50% of the votes plus one to win. A runoff would occur in January. Both Curry and a spokesman for the reform slate said the race is headed to a runoff.

The vote underscores a deep divide at the union, which hasn’t seen a serious leadership challenge since Walter Reuther consolidated power in the late 1940s. The UAW is trying to regain the confidence of its members after a five-year U.S. investigation into embezzlement and illegal payoffs to union executives netted more than a dozen convictions, including two former presidents.

“There’s dissatisfaction, and I’m not surprised,” said Marick Masters, a professor at Wayne State University who studies the UAW. “There certainly were ample grounds to be dissatisfied with leadership.”

Under Pressure

Whoever prevails in the contest will be under pressure next year to appease workers at General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV who are looking for wage gains to offset inflation and to address long-running issues like a two-tier wage system and the use of temporary workers. Together they employ about 150,000 UAW members.

The union is also facing threats to job security and wage standards as carmakers invest billions in the US’s nonunion South to build electric vehicles, which require fewer people and hours to assemble than combustion-engine cars.

A victory for Fain, a former automotive electrician in Indiana who rose to a position at the union’s headquarters, could mean a more hard-line approach at the negotiating table next year, Masters said. 

“It’s a shift, rhetorically, to a more militant stance on the part of the UAW,” he said. “They would be much more resistant to what are perceived as concessions if something isn’t given in return.”

“We want to put every employer on notice: Prepare for a new, more aggressive UAW,” Fain said in a statement. “The cozy labor-management relationship is on its way to the dustbin of history.”

Read more: US automakers face union push to ease inflation’s bite

A test of the union’s power will come later this month when it tries to organize a new plant in Lordstown, Ohio, run by Ultium Cells LLC, the EV battery venture jointly owned by General Motors and LG Energy Solution of South Korea. UAW organizers will hold a Dec. 7-8 vote to determine if the plant’s 850 production workers will become members.

A union victory could inspire nonunion workers at battery plants as they spring up across the US. The UAW will try to bring in new members at those plants and set pay and benefits for a new generation of unionized battery and EV industry employees.

In December 2021, members overhauled the UAW by voting to choose their leaders through direct elections rather than a delegate system. The reformers were leading races for other powerful positions late Friday: Two of three vice-president slots appeared to lean their way, and Margaret Mock, a worker at a Stellantis truck plant in Michigan, was poised to become secretary treasurer.

The UAW staved off a government takeover in December 2020 by agreeing to a federal monitor to oversee ethics reform for six years.

(Updates with comment by Fain in 10th paragraph)

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