UAW, US Attorney reach deal to reform union after scandal

TOM KRISHER
AP Auto Writer
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2019, file photo, United Auto Workers union President Rory Gamble answers questions in Southfield, Mich. The United Auto Workers and the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit say they have reached a settlement to reform the union in the wake of a wide-ranging bribery and embezzlement scandal. Terms of the deal will be announced at a Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, news conference in Detroit. Gamble and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who has called for the reforms, are scheduled to attend Monday's announcement.

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers and the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit say they have reached a settlement with the goal of reforming the union in the wake of a wide-ranging bribery and embezzlement scandal.

Terms of the agreement will be announced at a Monday afternoon news conference in Detroit. 

The agreement likely will stop short of a full federal takeover of the 400,000-member union. But it's expected to include an independent monitor and a change in the way union officials are elected.

The union has been in the throes of the scandal for over five years as the government probed corruption in its upper ranks. The investigation has led to 11 convictions, including that of two former presidents. Many of the officials were accused of conspiring with others to cover up the use of union cash for boozy meals, premium cigars, golf and lodging in Palm Springs, California.

Details of the civil settlement weren't available. But it is likely to include an independent monitor to watch the union's finances and possibly allow members to directly elect union leadership.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who has called for the reforms, and current UAW President Rory Gamble are scheduled to attend Monday's announcement.

In June, Schneider and Gamble discussed a monitor to make sure union corruption is rooted out for good. The two men met as the union tried to reform itself and avoid a possible federal takeover.

Schneider, whose office has been investigating union corruption since 2015, had floated the idea of a government takeover and has advocated for direct voting by members to elect union leadership. Currently the union's members vote on delegates to a convention, who then vote on a president. 

In a statement at the time, Schneider appeared to back off from the takeover possibility, saying he looks forward to a "mutually agreeable resolution that will protect the interests of the UAW's members and their families." Gamble and other union officials oppose a government takeover. 

An independent monitor would give union members the assurance of reforms "so as to reduce the possibility of a recurrence of corruption," the statement said. 

Former UAW President Dennis Williams in September pleaded guilty in the government's investigation, and his successor as president, Gary Jones, pleaded guilty in June.

Williams, 67, was president from 2014 until he retired in 2018. He was accused of conspiring with others to cover up the source of cash for expensive meals, cigars and large expenses. 

The union's Region 5 leadership, which was based in Missouri and headed by Jones, would hold weeklong retreats in Palm Springs and invite Williams along. He said he stayed beyond "what my union business required."

Williams told a judge that he wondered if money was being misused but that he was assured by Jones that "everything was above board."

More than $53,000 in union money was used to rent a villa for Williams for monthslong stays in 2015-18, according to a court filing.

He faces a likely prison sentence of 18 to 24 months.

With about 400,000 members, the Detroit-based UAW is best known for representing 150,000 workers at Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford Motor.

Williams has repaid $55,000 in inappropriate travel expenses, the union said. Separately, the UAW is selling a lakefront house built for him at a union conference center in northern Michigan.

Eleven union officials and a late official's spouse have pleaded guilty since 2017, although not all the crimes were connected. The first wave of convictions, which included some Fiat Chrysler employees, involved taking money from a Fiat Chrysler-UAW training center in Detroit.