Flow of tips keeps UAW on the defensive


DETROIT — In his first two months as president of the UAW, Rory Gamble swiftly enacted common-sense reforms aimed at ending the corruption and malfeasance that has plagued the union for years.

It still might not be enough for the union to avoid its worst-case scenario: government oversight.

The years-long federal investigation that as of last week had produced charges against 13 individuals and netted 11 guilty pleas is far from over, intensifying as new tips emerged after prosecutors asked the public for leads. One of those tips alleges that Gamble and former UAW-Ford Vice President Jimmy Settles accepted kickbacks from a vendor, The Detroit News reported, although all parties have vehemently denied the allegations.

Still, the uptick in tips indicates that investigators have more to look into — and they could be getting additional information from former Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, who appears ready to plead guilty Feb. 4.

Pearson, who resigned from the union in November, had new charges filed against him last week in a criminal information that marked the Justice Department’s first use of the word “racketeering” to describe a pattern of abuse by senior UAW officials that reportedly includes Gary Jones and Dennis Williams, the union’s most recent past presidents, although neither have been charged with a crime.

Placing the union into federal receivership through racketeering charges is an option that remains on the table, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider told The Detroit Free Press last week, echoing comments he made to Automotive News last year.

“Rory has done about everything he can do within the powers of his office to clean things up,” said Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who specializes in labor issues. “But investigators clearly think there’s a pattern of wrongdoing that’s more than a few isolated individuals trying to get away with something. That suggests to me there’s more to come and they may be laying the groundwork for more stringent action.”

Gamble has promised transparency since becoming president and last week issued a lengthy letter to union members denying allegations that he accepted bribes or kickbacks from a vendor.

He told Automotive News in November that he was “confident” all remaining members of the UAW International Executive Board, of which he is part, were clean.

“I would not have accepted the role of president if I couldn’t withstand the scrutiny,” Gamble said in a statement last week.

“Our union has suffered enough as a result of corrupt leaders. On my watch, we cannot and will not allow financial improprieties to rob our members of their hard-earned dollars. My sole focus as president is to strengthen the union’s financial controls, oversight and accounting system — and most importantly, to restore the trust of our union members.”

Since his installation as president, Gamble has changed way the union handles finances, added an independent ethics officer, abolished the purchase of promotional items through training-center funds and sold a cabin that was built for Williams with nonunion labor. Gamble also announced plans to dissolve Region 5, which Jones led before Pearson and has been at the center of the scandal.

Still, Masters said that may not matter to the feds, who could be looking at more structural changes through a government takeover.

“These activities were illegal and improper before, but they went ahead and did them anyway,” Masters said. “Having rules in place can make it more difficult, but there was something about the culture that encouraged this kind of behavior and led people to believe this was a normal way to do business that they could get away with.”

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