UAW adopts anti-corruption reforms amid federal criminal probe

Key Points
  • The reforms are being led by acting UAW President Rory Gamble.
  • They include the creation of an outside "ethics officer" and additional accountability measures.
  • An ongoing federal investigation into the union has led to charges against 13 people, including convictions of seven officials affiliated with the union.
United Auto Workers (UAW) acting president Rory Gamble speaks to Reuters from his office in Southfield, Michigan, November 6, 2019.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers union on Wednesday announced several reforms in an effort to prevent and root out corruption amid an ongoing federal investigation involving bribery and embezzlement by union officials.

The actions, according to the union, include creating an "ethics officer" who will not be a direct employee of the union and additional accountability measures and policies involving charitable contributions and spending of funds for jointly operated training centers with the Detroit automakers.

Personal charities of union officers and jointly operated training programs have been at the center of the federal probe that has led to charges against 13 people, including convictions of seven officials affiliated with the union and three Fiat Chrysler executives.

The UAW also said it will sell a cabin built for former UAW President Dennis Williams at a union resort and training center in Michigan. Williams has been implicated but not charged as part of the investigation. However, the facility has been a point of contention for union members amid the federal probe.

The reforms are being led by acting UAW President Rory Gamble following UAW President Gary Jones taking a leave of absence on Nov. 3, days after being implicated in the multiyear investigation. Jones has not been charged by federal prosecutors. Homes of Jones and Williams were raided by federal agents in August.

"As the acting president, I'm committed to putting in place the right mechanisms to safeguard our union, regaining the trust of our members, and ensuring the misconduct that has recently come to light will never happen again," Gamble said Wednesday in a news release. "That is why I am ordering immediate actions that will lay the foundation for a more transparent, more accountable, and more responsible future for our union."

FBI agents finish loading materials into a truck out of the home of United Auto Workers President Gary Jones on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Michael Wayland / CNBC

Gamble last week said he hoped the reform actions would assist the union in avoiding potential government oversight as a result of the probe turning into a RICO case.

"It's a concern, but we're going to operate going forward to self-govern and save our union," he told CNBC. "I would hope that the government would look at that and recognize that, and going forward give consideration to that. We have the ability by what we put in place to do just that, self-govern our union."

Although the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, is best known for being used against organized crime, it can be and has been used to prosecute widespread corruption in other organizations.

Other announced reforms include:

  • The establishment of an "ethics ombudsman to receive, review and respond to ethics complaints and allegations."
  • A new policy that will "enhance enforcement against those who have been found guilty of misusing funds and our commitment to seek recovery of all misused or misappropriated funds."
  • The banning of all charitable contributions from UAW joint program centers, vendors or employers to any charities run or controlled by UAW officials.
  • An ethics hotline to encourage those who may have concerns about or want to report potential ethics violations.

All of the "ethics reforms" have been approved by the UAW international executive board and are effective immediately, according to the union.