UAW announces ethics officer, reforms

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — The United Auto Workers is appointing its first-ever external ethics officer, another step in President Rory Gamble's effort to avoid a federal government takeover amid a continuing criminal investigation into union corruption.

The union's governing International Executive Board on Tuesday appointed Wilma Liebman ethics officer. Liebman served as the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board under President Barack Obama from 2009-11, and was previously appointed a member of the NLRB by both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush beginning in 1997.

Liebman also has worked as labor counsel for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, and legal counsel to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. That union was subject to a federal government takeover under a consent decree in 1989 to settle racketeering and corruption charges.

United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble

Also Tuesday, the UAW launched a new confidential ethics hotline for union members to report ethical or financial violations.The UAW also will institute new financial and accounting reviews and controls to protect members’ dues from any potential act of malfeasance. 

The moves come as the federal government continues a years-long investigation into union corruption that produced to 13 convictions and 14 charged, including former President Gary Jones. He stepped down last fall after he was implicated in the federal probe and is now charged with embezzling more than $1 million from the union, racketeering and income tax evasion.

When he took office, Gamble pledged to enact reforms including appointing an independent ethics officer. In response to public criticism from U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, Gamble is offering to meet with federal officials probing union corruption, The Detroit News reported last week. 

“While our country and union navigate the difficult challenges of this pandemic, today’s actions mark an important step in the progress of our ethics reform agenda and underline our unwavering pledge to our members that their Union is committed to operating at the highest level of integrity on their behalf,” Gamble said in a statement Tuesday.

The UAW Ethics Hotline will open Tuesday "as part of the UAW’s pledge to enact significant ethics reforms to safeguard the union from corruption and identify misconduct," the union said. Reports submitted to the ethics hotline will be screened and investigated by Exiger LLC, a third-party compliance and ethics investigative firm. Exiger will report their investigative findings to Liebman who will direct additional investigatory steps if necessary.

The UAW plans to create an Ethics Advisory Committee to obtain rank-and-file input into future ethics policies. Details of the committee will be announced in the second quarter of 2020.