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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History



WINPISINGER, WILLIAM (10 Dec. 1924 - 11 Dec. 1997) was president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and a fiery, self-proclaimed "seat-of-the-pants socialist" who advocated mass labor organizing and a national takeover of transportation, banking, utilities, and oil industries.

He was born in Cleveland and his father was a printer at the PLAIN DEALER. He dropped out of high school on Cleveland's West Side to join the Navy, training as a diesel mechanic during WORLD WAR II.

After his discharge, Winpisinger worked as an auto mechanic and soon became a shop steward, then president of the International Association of Machinists Automotive Local 1363. In 1951, he was appointed to the IAM field staff, and in 1958 he left Cleveland when he was assigned to the IAM headquarters staff in Washington. There he organized truck and car mechanics nationwide and became the IAM vice-president in 1967. A decade later he was IAM president and soon tried to push the AFL-CIO to become more politically active, urging federation president George Meany to step down. Winpisinger believed Meany had become overly passive, that big business was not interested in the welfare of workers, and that labor was "drifting to the right." In order to further what he believed to be labor's mission of serving the nation's oppressed and underprivileged, he successfully pushed for the expansion of job safety, human rights, community service, public relations, and organizing programs within his union. In 1978, he formed a coalition of environmentalists, academics and others to work for lower energy costs, and during the 1981 energy crisis, his union filed suit against OPEC for hurting American industry and workers by oil price fixing. That same year, he condemned the government bailout of the Chrysler Corporation as being favorable to the employer at the expense of labor. In 1982, he accused the Reagan Administration of stacking its Labor Department "so heavily against labor and so mightily in favor of management." After twelve years as its leader, "Wimpy," as he was known to friends and supporters, retired as head of the machinists' union in 1989, leaving it the largest of the aircraft-industry unions.

He served as a member of the Finance Committee of the Democratic National Committee and as co-chairman of the Collective Bargaining and Group Relations Institute. He was a trustee of the National Planning Association and president of the Citizen/Labor Energy Coalition. He was a member of the board of governors of the National Space Institute, the executive committee of the International Metalworkers Federation, and the executive board of International Guiding Eyes.

He married in 1946 (?). He and his wife, Pearl had five children: sons Kenneth, William Jr., and Michael, and daughters Vickie and Linda. Mr. Winpisinger died at Howard County Memorial Hospital in Columbia, MD, of complications from cancer.