UAW members plan to protest leadership during Labor Day parade

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

A group of outspoken United Automobile Workers members are calling for others to join them Monday to protest against the international union's leaders during Detroit's Labor Day parade.

The demonstration is a signal that workers are demanding change following a federal corruption probe into the UAW that has resulted in charges against nine people and prison sentences for eight figures linked to the UAW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

A UAW Local 1248 trailer rides along the route carrying members.

The investigation widened Wednesday when the FBI and other federal agencies raided locations in four states, including the suburban Detroit home of UAW President Gary Jones and the California home of former President Dennis Williams. Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing for new contracts with the Detroit Three automakers.

"We're not protesting Labor Day," said Brian Keller, an employee at Fiat Chrysler's Sherwood distribution center for Mopar parts in Warren. He is a longtime activist in the union who ran against Jones in 2018 for the presidency. "We're protesting the path that our leadership is taking us on."

Workers will gather at around 7 a.m. Monday at 14th Street and Michigan Avenue and walk in the Labor Day parade down Michigan Avenue with signs demanding reforms, Keller said.

The parade begins at 9:30 a.m. The 50-year-old Mount Clemens resident said he didn't know how many people would join the contingent. Keller announced the plan this week with a Facebook Live video.

"The purpose is to let our voices be heard, to tell the Solidarity House that the leadership is there to represent the membership and negotiate in the membership's interest and not in the company’s interest, to put pressure on the Solidarity House to do the right thing during this contract negotiation," Keller said. "It's my belief that those who are involved in the corruption know that they are a part of the investigation and even though they have not been indicted yet, they are going to screw over the membership one more time."

Keller is one of three Fiat Chrysler employees who in January 2018 filed a lawsuit seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over allegations that union leaders colluded with company officials to influence collective bargaining agreements in 2015.

Brian Keller

The UAW declined to comment Thursday.

The protest was organized after Keller and other like-minded activists, including Omar Guevara, a line worker at General Motors Co.'s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, received hundreds of messages from auto workers following Wednesday's raids.

"It was a tipping point for many," said Guevara, 45, of Clio. "We’ve lost and lost throughout the years. We've lost our pensions, (certain retiree) healthcare benefits, we’ve lost jobs, our plants have relocated, we have the creation of multiple (wage) tiers. Then, union leadership appoints themselves a 33% pay raise. They're sick of it."

Keller also called for members to work within their locals to demand a special convention to remove leaders, including Gary Jones and UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who also is under investigation. Neither have been charged.

Article 8 Section 4 for of the UAW constitution allows members to initiate a special convention with a written request from at least 15 locals in five states or provinces that represent no less than 20% of the UAW’s total membership. At that point, a vote would be held on whether to have a special convention for the reason the locals described, and a majority of the union's members must approve it to hold one. The same delegates from the most recent constitutional convention — in this case, those who elected Jones and other international leaders in June 2018 — would represent their locals at a special convention.

Article 30 allows a local union member to sign a written affidavit that is endorsed by the member's own local and at least 10 additional locals to initiate a trial against an international leader. A 12-member trial committee made of delegates from the most recent convention would hear both sides. A two-thirds majority could find the accused guilty. Another two-thirds majority would be needed to remove an official from office.

Efforts toward this end have begun, Guevara and Keller said. They declined to provide specifics for fear of disruption by the international organization.

"It is starting to take off a bit," Keller said. "I’d like to see the Solidarity House from the top floor down cleaned out. You have those that were involved in the corruption, but then you had those who knew about the corruption and sat back and did nothing. The union can't move forward until we have leadership reforms."