UAW moves to expel those charged, convicted in federal probe

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers moved Friday to expel eight former officers and staffers who've been charged or convicted of crimes in the ongoing federal investigation into union corruption. 

The UAW said the International Executive Board filed charges under Article 31 of the UAW Constitution to expel former Vice Presidents Joseph Ashton and Norwood Jewell, as well as former international representatives Edward “Nick” Robinson, Nancy Adams Johnson, Jeffrey Pietrzyk, Michael Grimes, Keith Mickens, and Virdell King.

The union made a similar move against former president Gary Jones, who resigned in November amid federal corruption investigation implicating him for embezzling more than $1.5 million in union funds. He quit as the union's governing board moved to remove him and a longtime aide, Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, from the union. Pearson is expected to plead guilty to criminal charges Friday in federal court in Detroit.        

Plywood remains in place of windows at the United Auto Workers headquarters after a fire last July tore through Solidarity House.

"Any UAW member who uses their position to break the law or blatantly violates the sacred oath they took to faithfully serve our members will be subject to removal from their post and expulsion from our union," President Rory Gamble said in a statement. "My administration, and the entire Executive Board, will continue to hold accountable those who commit criminal conduct or serious violations of our Ethical Practices Code."

The statement continued: "And we will continue to aggressively implement the critical reforms necessary to strengthen our union’s financial controls, oversight, and overall accounting system to ensure the type of conduct described in these charges will not reoccur."

Article 31 of the UAW constitution empowers the executive board to put on trial and potentially expel members believed to have engaged in misconduct or violated the UAW's ethics code, recently expanded in response to the widening scandal.

The union's move against eight of its members came a day after two Republican lawmakers — including U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton — called for the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee to investigate "the growing corruption scandal" in the UAW.

Expulsion under Article 31 would strip the individuals of their UAW membership. But the union has referred to a 1990 Supreme Court decision that an employer cannot withhold an employee's pension. The government, however, could should it seek restitution. 

The investigation into UAW officials is ongoing. The Detroit News reported in January that federal agents investigating a kickback and bribery scandal within the UAW are probing financial ties between Gamble, retired Vice President Jimmy Settles and one of the union's highest-paid vendors.

Gamble, appointed in November to complete the unexpired term of Jones, is the third consecutive UAW president linked to the years-long investigation into union corruption. It has produced charges against 13 people, convictions of 11 and exposed the union to possible government oversight.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau