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UAW names Rory Gamble president through 2022

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Rory Gamble is the new president of the United Auto Workers.

Gamble had been acting president of the union since Gary Jones resigned from the top position in November. The UAW's International Executive Board on Thursday officially named him president, making him the first African American to lead the union.

He will serve out the remainder of Jones' four-year term until the UAW's June 2022 constitutional convention. Gamble, 64, takes leadership at a critical moment for the union as it faces distrust among some members amid an ongoing years-long federal corruption probe that could result in government oversight.

Rory Gamble

“This wasn’t planned and it is a tall order," Gamble said in a statement. "There are difficult decisions that will need to be made in the coming months for our members. But I promise one thing, when I retire and turn over this office, we will deliver a clean union on solid footing.”

Gamble's selection follows nearly completed labor talks with the Detroit Three. After he reached a tentative agreement with Ford Motor Co. in three days and the contract was ratified, the UAW council of leaders from locals representing Fiat Chrysler Automobiles employees on Wednesday voted to send their tentative agreement to the membership.

The two deals done under Gamble demonstrate stability and could help provide the momentum to implement reforms he has suggested to prevent further corruption in the union, said Art Wheaton, an automotive industry specialist at Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations School

"I think this is a crisis in terms of any times of police investigation and several people of your bad or leaders get in trouble," Wheaton said. "I think Rory is up to the challenge. He's saying, 'We can’t do things the old ways. We need to make changes.'"

For 12 years, Gamble was director of Taylor-based Region 1A, which covers part of Wayne County and Michigan's Thumb region. In 2018, Gamble was elected vice president and appointed to head of the union's Ford Department. The executive board in January plans to fill the role he leaves behind.

Gamble took over from Jones on Nov. 3 when the former president went on paid leave following accusations that he embezzled and pocketed $700,000 in member dues with an aide. Jones, who has not been charged by the federal government, later resigned as the executive board brought charges under the UAW constitution against him in an effort to revoke his membership.

The charges are just one example of the steps the union under Gamble has taken to clean up the UAW. Gamble has announced a number of ethics reforms, including an independent ethics officer, an ethics hotline, provisions to recover misspent money and stricter financial controls including audits.

"We like that he communicates with us," said Meoshee Edwards, a 23-year General Motors Co. employee who is a team leader at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly. "He is on social media and puts out letters. He seems like he's very open and honest. We need somebody who is trustworthy."

The announcement of the audits came a day after The Detroit News reported U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said he was unimpressed with the reform efforts announced in mid-November and that government oversight remains a possibility. Schneider also suggested the corruption investigation is only halfway done with 11 convictions, 13 people charged and two former UAW presidents implicated.

Some UAW members aren't impressed either: "He was around when the culture was foul," said Jonathan Mason, a five-year production employee at Ford Motor Co.'s Dearborn Truck Plant. "You can't tell me that he didn't or didn't hear what was going on. Until he enacts one member, one vote to the leaders, he doesn't want no change. If he was there during all the corruption and didn't speak on it then, what makes me think he will speak now?"

With the acting title removed from his name, Gamble will have greater pressure to act even more quickly and regain the members' trust, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

"Once he became the acting president, he began acting," Dziczek said. "Some have said it wasn't fast or good enough, but we can't go back because he wasn't in the position to do it then."

The union also must replace Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, who has been charged with embezzlement, mail and wire fraud and money laundering. He resigned last week after the executive board also brought charges against him. Region 5 will call a meeting of delegates that were elected by members in the coming weeks to fill that vacancy.

“Together, our members, local leaders and our Board have an opportunity to set the UAW on a course for generations," Gamble said. "We are in this together as we work through these changes and challenges."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanacNoble