Republican lawmakers call for hearing on 'growing corruption scandal' at UAW

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — A pair of Republican lawmakers on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee are renewing their request that Congress investigate "the growing corruption scandal" roiling the United Auto Workers.

In a third letter to the top-ranking Democrats on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, and his colleague U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said the Democratic-controlled chamber has ignored previous calls to investigate the UAW. 

"As you know, federal law enforcement has charged or convicted more than a dozen high-ranking UAW officials with money laundering, tax fraud, bribery and embezzlement; and several UAW officials have violated laws that fall within Committee jurisdiction," the lawmakers wrote.

Former UAW President Gary Jones, center, walks in the 2019 Labor Day parade in Detroit. Jones is the subject of an ongoing investigation, accused of being part of what federal prosecutors call a “racketeering enterprise.”

The two say they had originally requested a hearing by Oct. 31, 2019; they then requested a hearing by Dec. 12. 

"To date," they wrote, "we have not received a reply to either letter. Since both deadlines have passed and this outrageous scandal continues to expand, we respectfully renew our request for a public committee oversight hearing on the UAW corruption scandal." 

Walberg and Foxx noted the UAW scandal has expanded since their initial calls for hearings. 

“In the time since our second letter was sent to you in November, the two previous UAW Presidents were formally implicated as members of a racketeering enterprise within the union, and the current president — who took over because of the corruption allegations against the former Presidents — has come under federal investigation as well," the lawmakers wrote. "The racketeering enterprise, highlighted in a new criminal filing against a former UAW Regional Director, embezzled more than $1.5 million in union funds.”

In a statement, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said, "the federal government has never said or even suggested that President Rory Gamble is a target of its investigation." 

Earlier this month, The Detroit News reported that federal agents investigating a kickback and bribery scandal within the UAW are looking at financial ties between Gamble, a retired vice president and one of the union's highest-paid vendors — a probe that remains active, a source familiar with the situation told The News Thursday.

Democrats, who control the U.S. House, have largely ignored the GOP's call for a congressional investigation of the labor union. Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates were careful to stand alongside UAW rank-and-file members during the union's strike against General Motors Co. while largely avoiding comment on the union and its leadership.

Federal investigations of union corruption are not unprecedented, even if Congress is typically reluctant to get involved. Thirty years ago, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters settled a civil racketeering lawsuit to keep mob influence out of the 1.4 million-member union.

The suit alleged the Teamsters had made a "devil's pact" with organized crime and was dominated by the Mafia. The federal government gained control of the Teamsters by way of a consent decree settling racketeering and corruption charges that federal officials brought against Teamsters officials.

The government essentially oversaw every penny the Teamsters spent for 25 years. A 2015 agreement moved to phase out government oversight over a five-year period. Experts note that a quarter-century of government oversight, while attempting to sever Teamster ties to the Mafia, drastically altered the union by establishing new election practices, among other things.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing