(Oct. 3, 1919-Mar. 20, 1993). Born in Anderson, Indiana, Dallas W. Sells Jr. came of age with the emerging industrial union movement of the 1930s. He attended General Motors Institute and was employed as an industrial electrician at Delco-Remy in Anderson. Following two years’ wartime service in the U.S. Navy, Sells became increasingly active in UAW Local 662 based in Anderson, serving as president from 1951 to 1953. In 1954, he was elected state president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and, after its merger with the American Federation of Labor, headed the combined Indiana AFL-CIO in Indianapolis from 1958 to 1968.

Active in public affairs and in the Democratic Party, Sells worked to repeal the state’s right-to-work statute following its 1957 passage. This law, which prohibited employers and unions from contractually requiring that union-represented workers maintain union membership, was repealed in 1965. Sells also fought, unsuccessfully, the enactment of the sales tax in Indiana.

Following the UAW’s 1968 break with the national AFL-CIO, a schism brought on by national policy and personality conflicts, Sells resigned as president of the Indiana AFL-CIO. He became a legislative representative for United Auto Workers, Region 3, headquartered in Indianapolis. The region contained Indiana and Kentucky. He later moved to Detroit as a Regional Coordinator for the UAW’s Community Action Program. In 1971, he was appointed to the unexpired term of Ray Berndt as director of Region 3 and was thereafter elected to that position until his 1984 retirement.

Sells served dozens of community, charitable, governmental, civil rights, and educational organizations, frequently as president or chair. Known for these commitments, for his biting wit, and for his abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and profanity, Sells was widely considered the premier leader in the post-World War II era of Indiana labor.

Revised March 2021

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