(Adds biographical details of nominee, background)
By Nick Carey
DETROIT, Nov 30 (Reuters) - An influential caucus at the United Auto Workers nominated on Thursday a regional director as candidate for union president as the UAW struggles to organize auto plants and faces a probe into alleged misuse of funds at training centers funded by Detroit’s automakers.
The caucus, named for renowned former UAW President Walter Reuther, nominated Gary Jones, director of the union’s region 5 covering 17 Western and Southwestern states, for a four-year term.
For the past seven decades, the Reuther Caucus’s nominee has won election as union president. The UAW will hold a leadership election in June.
Current UAW President Dennis Williams was elected in 2014 and will turn 65 in 2018, which would bar him from re-election.
Based in Kansas City, Missouri, where he has been regional director since 2012, Jones is far removed from the Justice Department probe into alleged misuse of funds at the UAW training centers in the Detroit area.
Jones joined the UAW in 1975 when he was hired at a Ford Motor Co plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He has worked for the union in various roles since 1990.
The UAW’s next president will have to steer the union through challenging contract negotiations with General Motors Co , Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in 2019.
After a boom running from 2010 to record annual sales of 17.55 million units in 2016, new vehicle sales are expected to decline slightly this year, followed by further decreases in 2018 and 2019.
Industry consultant LMC predicts U.S. new vehicle sales will dip to 16.8 million units in 2019, likely portending a much tougher round of contract talks than in 2015 when automakers were on an upswing.
UAW membership has crept up since the end of the 2007-2009 recession, but is about half of what it was in 1998 and well below a peak of 1.5 million members in 1979. The Detroit automakers and their suppliers have slashed workforces at UAW-represented factories over the past 30 years as they have automated and lost sales to European and Asian rivals.
Earlier this month, workers at a Chinese-owned auto glass plant in southwestern Ohio voted heavily against union representation. The UAW lost the vote at Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co Ltd by a 2-to-1 margin.
The union also lost a bitterly contested vote at a Nissan Motor Co Ltd plant in Mississippi in August, adding to a decades-long record of failure to organize a major automaker’s plant in the U.S. South.
Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney