Canadian Manufacturing

UAW union approves a direct election for their leaders in wake of scandal

The U.S. attorney's office said it uncovered embezzlement of over $1.5 million in dues money, kickbacks to union officials from vendors and $3.5 million in illegal payments from executives at Fiat Chrysler who wanted to corruptly influence contract talks.

December 3, 2021  by Associated Press

Members of the United Auto Workers union have overwhelmingly approved picking their leaders by direct ballot elections, rejecting a system that many blamed for a bribery and embezzlement scandal in the union’s top ranks.

The “one member, one vote” measure got about 64% of 140,586 valid ballots that were received by Nov. 29’s mail-in deadline.

Only about 36% favored the current system of leadership picked by delegates to a convention, according to results released on Dec. 2.

The results are not official until approved by the Labor Department and a federal judge.

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A court-appointed monitor will develop rules and oversee the election of the union’s 13-member International Executive Board, which includes the president, three vice presidents, secretary-treasurer and regional directors. All current board members including President Ray Curry are expected to run.

The monitor, Neil Barofsky, said on Dec. 2 in a statement that the election is likely to take place in the summer or fall of next year.

The change is a dramatic one for the 86-year-old union with 397,000 members nationwide. In the past, union leaders were chosen every four years at a convention, with the delegates picked by local union offices. But the new slate of leaders is picked by the outgoing president, and seldom has there been any serious opposition.

Direct elections received 89,615 votes, while 50,971 wanted delegate voting. Over 1 million active members and retirees were eligible to vote.

Barofsky was appointed by a federal judge earlier this year as part of a settlement that avoided a government takeover of the union after a wide-ranging bribery and embezzlement scandal. The vote on direct election of leaders also was part of the settlement.

Eleven union officials and a late official’s spouse have pleaded guilty in a corruption probe since 2017, including the two presidents who served before Gamble, Gary Jones and Dennis Williams. Both were sentenced to prison.

Not all of the convictions were linked. The first wave, which included some Fiat Chrysler employees, involved money paid as bribes from a Fiat Chrysler-UAW training center in Detroit. Jones and Williams were caught in an embezzlement scheme with the leaders taking thousands of dollars of union money to buy golf clubs, booze, lavish meals and to rent expensive villas in Palm Springs, California.

During the probe, Schneider, who led the investigation, said the corruption was so deep that the federal government may take over the union.

The U.S. attorney’s office said it uncovered embezzlement of over $1.5 million in dues money, kickbacks to union officials from vendors and $3.5 million in illegal payments from executives at Fiat Chrysler who wanted to corruptly influence contract talks.

Barofsky, who will stay in place for six years unless both sides agree to a shorter term, leads the law firm Jenner & Block’s monitorship practice.