Six locals support effort to remove UAW President Gary Jones

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

A group of United Auto Workers members making a second mutiny attempt against President Gary Jones has support from more than half of the union locals needed to pursue a trial against the leader to remove him from the union.

The members from Massachusetts to Tennessee are pursuing actions outlined in three UAW constitution articles. They are seeking an investigation into officials identified in a four-year federal probe into UAW corruption; removal of Jones and Vance Pearson, a member of the UAW's executive board; and a special convention to amend the constitution for the direct election of union leaders and other reforms. 

Embattled UAW President Gary Jones is on a paid leave of absence after being implicated in a federal corruption probe that has produced charges against 13 individuals and netted 10 convictions.

"We see that those who have reportedly put policies in place as corrective actions were actually involved with (the corruption), as well," said Scott Houldieson, a 30-year UAW member at Ford Motor Co.'s Chicago Assembly Plant who is helping to lead the efforts. "That pushed us over. That was what tipped us over the edge to realize if the membership didn’t take action, action was not going to be taken."

The union members emphasize that they are not anti-union, but say they are taking the democratic steps enshrined in the constitution and union lore that their leaders won't take. Their hope is to preserve the autonomy and integrity of the UAW and to preempt a potential government takeover.

The unprecedented effort is at least the second attempt to remove Jones after a faction of the union's governing board appeared to push to do so in September, four sources told The Detroit News at the time. It came a day after The News identified Jones as "UAW Official A" in an affidavit filed in a criminal complaint charging Pearson, Jones' former aide and director of UAW Region 5 covering the southwestern United States, with embezzling union funds, mail and wire fraud and money laundering.

The unnamed official is accused of orchestrating a corruption conspiracy of embezzling $1.5 million in member dues on personal luxuries. Jones has not been charged, though he went on paid leave earlier this month after the federal government accused UAW Official A of splitting and pocketing $700,000 in member dues with an aide. Pearson also is on leave.

No UAW president has been ousted before by the members in such a way, according to archivists with Wayne State University's Reuther Library. In the union's early years, however, its board did oust Homer Martin, who was president from 1936-38, after he secretly made deals with automakers.

"In the 80-some-year history of the UAW, the current situation at the highest offices is standalone," said Mike Smith, the library's former director. "This is unprecedented."

The corruption investigation so far has led to 10 people being convicted and 13 charged.

"Once things started becoming apparent that it was more than just a few bad apples, we started researching the constitution, what our options as members are," Houldieson said.

FILE — UAW President Gary Jones raises his fist in acknowledgment while being introduced before a ceremonial handshake to mark the beginning of negotiations between the United Auto Workers and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles at FCA's North America headquarters in Auburn Hills, July 16, 2019.

Article 30

A majority of members at six local unions so far have voted to support an affidavit written by Christopher Budnick, a UAW member at Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant, charging Jones and Pearson with "conduct unbecoming an officer and member of the UAW." The charges would demand a trial against them that could lead to their removal from the union or other disciplinary actions.

"This is a way for us to engage the membership," he said, adding that he wrote the affidavit to show that the membership has the highest authority in the union. "We have ways to fight against this corruption."

A majority of members at Budnick's local, Local 862, voted to support the affidavit, but it needs that from 10 others to proceed with charges against Jones, according to Article 30 Section 1 of the constitution. To proceed against Pearson, a majority of locals in Region 5 would have to sign onto the affidavit; none so far have.

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg declined to comment on members' efforts to oust Jones, emphasizing that a process is in place for both rank-and-file and union leaders to take action.

"Article 30 of the UAW Constitution was set up to assure that members have a mechanism to deal with wrongdoing by elected officers; and that those elected officers would also have a fair internal UAW trial process," Rothenberg said in a statement. "The UAW, as we stated in announcing a series of reforms last week, is committed to establishing the right mechanisms and safeguards to protect the union from corruption and misfeasance."

In addition to Louisville, Kentucky's Local 862, Budnick's affidavit has won the support of Hicksville's Local 259 representing service technicians at car dealerships; Local 774 in Buffalo, New York, representing General Motors Co. employees at Tonawanda Engine Plant; Local 1596 in Canton, Massachusetts; Local 7770 representing workers at Tiverton Casino and Hotel in Rhode Island; and Local 7902 in New York City representing adjunct teachers at New York University.

Getting support from unions across the country is important because "it brings more weight to the issue," said Brian Schneck, Local 259 president. Also adding fuel to their fire: Jones going on paid leave.

"Right now legally he is still the president of the UAW," Schneck said. "He needs to be removed … and forever disbanded from being a member. If I had it my way, I would strip him from all our documents."

No locals so far from some of the largest auto-producing states of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio have voted to support the measure.

Cathy Rayner, Local 7770's president, said in an email that members are "outraged at the abuse of power" but are optimistic about acting UAW president Rory Gamble's reforms that include stricter monetary controls and accountability measure and an ethics hotline and investigator.

Officials with Locals 774, 1596 and 7902 did not respond to requests for comment.

Article 32

Meanwhile, others are pursuing actions under Article 32 Section 5 to have the executive board investigate the allegations against Jones, Pearson and other UAW officials. Budnick says he knows of more than 100 submitted letters calling for action steps under Article 32.

UAW President Rory Gamble.

A majority came from Local 1853, which represents workers at GM's Spring Hill Assembly Plant in Tennessee, said Kenneth Larew, a 23-year UAW member there. Larew in early November sent two batches with more than 60 total letters to Solidarity House from members in his union.

Those letters were based on Houldieson's Article 32 letter. The Chicago electrician wrote Jones and Pearson violated the union's ethical practices code and that "failure of the UAW International Executive Board to deal with these blatant violations of the UAW Constitution leaves it up to the UAW membership to use our authority under the UAW Constitution to seek justice."

Houldieson wrote that he requests "appropriate redress," which he defines as "nothing short of a recommendation of revocation of membership in the UAW to all of the officers, former officers and officials involved" in the ethics violations.

He sent his letter to Jones on Oct. 30 and said his tracking receipt shows it was received. He has not heard from Solidarity House. Neither has Larew.

The executive board must update the independently operated Plymouth-based UAW Public Review Board on an Article 32 investigation. Members may appeal decisions made by the International Executive Board to the four-person Public Review Board consisting of legal and labor scholars. Two Public Review Board members said they had not seen any of the letters.

"Some of the behaviors that have been alleged, and to which some people have plead guilty, actually haven’t been going through (the Article 32) process," said Janice Bellace, board co-chair and professor emeritus at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "It may be more attention needs to be given to the process to see how that complaint can go upwards."

Members have 60 days to file an Article 32 letter once they become aware of any ethics violations. Houldieson's letter is pegged to the complaint against Pearson unsealed Sept. 12. He filed his without the support of his Local 551 after general membership meetings in September and October failed to hold a quorum.

Others, however, have been successful in securing the greater support of their local. A majority of Local 259 members last week voted to support a letter last week based on the Oct. 31 criminal case against Edward "Nick" Robinson, a top aide of Jones.

"It had to be done," said Michael Digiuseppe, second vice president for Local 259 in Hicksville, New York, and a service technician at a Ford dealership. "How could you not? How can the union be this source of pride for so many years that I should now walk around ashamed to be a member of the UAW? I did something I could be proud of. I didn't bury it. I didn't become an enabler. I don't think history is going to be kind to the people who have allowed this to happen."

A majority of members at Buffalo's Local 774 on Sunday also voted to support a similar letter, said Raymond Jensen Jr., a 20-year UAW member at GM's Tonawanda plant.

Article 8

Jensen put forth to his local a resolution under Article 8 to request a special convention in May to amend the UAW constitution and to break a 70-year tradition in the selection of its leadership. Local 774 on Sunday became the first to support the resolution.

"Hopefully that will get the ball rolling and get the support we need to bring back the integrity of the union and rid it of the corruption," Jensen said. "Hopefully it will help to avoid government oversight. That is the last thing anyone wants."

The resolution written by Houldieson calls for international executive board members to be selected by "direct referendum elections" of the UAW membership — a sharp break with tradition. Currently, the rank-and-file elect delegates to represent them at a constitutional convention who vote for the leaders of the 13-member executive board.

For more than 70 years, a majority of those delegates have voted for the leaders recommended by the Reuther caucus, also known as the administrative caucus. The Reuther caucus has hundreds of members and currently includes all members of the UAW's executive board.

"We need some form of a direct election so that we have the ability to hold our officers accountable when they don’t meet the needs of the membership," Houldieson said.

Houldieson's resolution also calls for the Secretary-Treasurer to publish the minutes of the executive board's meetings and a detailed quarterly financial report on the UAW's website. The resolution also seeks to disconnect the salaries of international officers from the salaries of international representatives, after doing so in June 2018 resulted in a 31% increase to the UAW president's pay.

Houldieson acknowledged that calling an Article 8 convention is a "heavy lift." The constitution requires majorities of at least 15 locals in at least five states that represent at least 20% of the membership to support the resolution to hold a referendum vote on whether to hold a special convention.

"If we're going to be a membership-driven union," Houldieson said, "our membership needs to step up."

Then-UAW Vice President Rory Gamble speaks during the first day of contract talks with Ford Motor Co.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble, @bykaleahall