Roland Jay Thomas (June 9, 1900 – April 18, 1967), also known as R. J. Thomas, was born in East Palestine, Ohio. He grew up in eastern Ohio and attended the College of Wooster for two years. The need to help support his family caused him to leave college and go to work. In 1923, he moved to Detroit, where he worked in a number of automobile plants.

He became active in efforts to organize the automobile industry and was the president of Chrysler Local 7 when it affiliated with the United Auto Workers (UAW) in 1936. He was a leader of the 1937 Chrysler sit-down strike and that same year was elected a vice president of the UAW. He assumed the presidency in 1938 after the president, Homer Martin, was ousted.

He was president until 1946. During this period, the UAW developed into a dynamic, stable union. He lost the presidency to Walter Reuther in 1946, but was elected first vice president. However, he lost that office in the election the following year. In 1947 he was named assistant to Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) president Philip Murray. With the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955, he served under George Meany until his retirement in 1964 due to ill health.

He was married to Mildred Wettergren on August 7, 1937. and they had one child, Frank. R. J. Thomas died in Muskegon, Michigan, in 1967.


  • Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs
Trade union offices
Preceded by
Homer Martin
President of the United Auto Workers
Succeeded by
Walter Reuther