UAW Members Expose Widespread Corruption

For three days in May the Detroit Free Press ran a series of long articles alleging widespread corruption in the United Auto Workers, from the shop floor to union headquarters. Several locals are now under investigation by either the U.S. Department of Labor or the FBI. The accusations came from scores of UAW members in at least ten locals in five states. Although some of the practices were well known to rank and file members, the series provoked much discussion in Detroit-area workplaces.

Members pinpointed dubious practices involving payroll padding and nepotism and the corrupting influence and misuse of the joint funds administered by the UAW and the Big Three auto companies. The Free Press reporters wrote, "Almost all of the members' allegations involve potentially illegal collaboration between the automakers and union officials to buy labor peace."

In most cases, the members who made the accusations said that they went through union channels first, taking their complaints to UAW President Stephen Yokich. Only reluctantly did they go to the federal government when their efforts were rebuffed by International officials.

At both Local 594 in Pontiac, Michigan and Local 685 in Kokomo, Indiana, both GM plants, 150 members signed on to the accusations. In Local 594, members charged that the president of the local had prolonged a 1997 strike in order to get jobs for relatives.

THE PRICE OF PEACE

Among the complaints:

    *That full-time reps log in hours of company-paid overtime not spent on the job, potentially increasing annual income by $50,000, while the company looks the other way. This is a longstanding practice at many Big Three plants. In return, according to members interviewed, reps soft-pedal grievances and health and safety complaints.
    *That the multi-million-dollar joint union-management programs with General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler "have hefty administrative costs, sponsor stock car races and teams, host political receptions, rent limousines and private planes for union brass, and throw lavish parties."

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These programs are funded by company contributions that range from $.05 an hour per worker to $5.00 an hour for overtime hours. The average straight time contribution is $.19 an hour, according to the Free Press-money that would otherwise be available for wages or benefits. The three funds spent a recorded total of $1.3 billion between 1996 and 1999. Al Nielsen, a UAW member from Lorain, Ohio who has researched the funds since 1997, said, "This is nothing but eat, drink, party, and the membership has a right to know if there's undue influence, impropriety."

Padded payrolls for workplace reps are not new in the UAW, the joint programs date back to 1982, and the abandonment of workplace militancy by the International union goes back even farther. Yet there is a widely reported feeling that the UAW has degenerated rapidly in recent years.

Bob King, a retired UAW official (not the current vice president), told the Free Press that members are making their complaints public "because it's not the UAW it was or should be." Some members refer to the union's Detroit headquarters, Solidarity House, as "Sold-Our-Dignity House."

In this issue, Gene Austin of Local 594, one of the workers who talked to the Department of Labor, presents his views along with the reactions of other UAW members to the revelations.

The Free Press series can be viewed at , titled "A Rift in the Ranks." The series ran May 17-19, 2001.