UAW, feds set meeting to reform troubled union

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider and United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble will hold an unprecedented meeting June 30 amid an ongoing federal corruption investigation as part of a broader attempt to avoid a government takeover. 

The meeting, announced Monday, marks the first time a sitting UAW president has agreed to meet with the head of the Detroit-based U.S. Attorney's Office to discuss potential reforms amid an investigation that has led to criminal charges against Gamble's predecessor, former President Gary Jones, implicated past President Dennis Williams and convicted two former vice presidents.

UAW President Rory Gamble and Matthew Schneider

Gamble offered to meet earlier this spring in the earliest days of the COVID-19 outbreak. Legal experts viewed his offer as a belated attempt to reform the UAW and to avert a possible Justice Department takeover through a civil racketeering lawsuit. Gamble's agreement to meet with investigators carries risks considering federal agents are probing ties between Gamble and one of the union's highest-paid vendors as well as whether labor leaders received bribes.

Schneider, as recently as two weeks ago, during an interview with The Detroit News, refused to publicly say whether Gamble remained under investigation.

“Today’s joint announcement of our upcoming meeting is another step toward building on the many reforms we have already enacted," Gamble said in a statement. "I look forward to discussing with U.S. Attorney Schneider the many reforms we have already put in place and furthering our efforts on other ongoing reforms for the UAW and our members. I firmly believe we both have the same goal."

The purpose of the meeting would be to address long-standing corruption within the UAW, Schneider said. One possible reform: amending the UAW constitution to enable members to directly elect leaders, a system imposed during the government takeover of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“I look forward to working with President Gamble to achieve what I hope will be a joint effort to resolve some of the serious issues that the UAW has faced over the past several years,” Schneider said in a statement. “The UAW’s membership deserves our concerted push to bring about significant and important reforms.”

The investigation could lead to the government seizing control of one of the nation's most powerful unions — a prospect Gamble has openly said he is working to avert. Still, Schneider has said repeatedly, that option remains on the table.

In the Gamble investigation, federal agents are probing allegations of strip club payoffs to labor leaders from UAW vendors in exchange for contracts to supply union-branded merchandise, sources told The Detroit News. Agents also are investigating financial ties between Gamble, retired Vice President Jimmy Settles and one of the union's highest-paid vendors.

Gamble has denied wrongdoing, and a lawyer representing Settles declined to comment.

"As I have said from day one as president, my intent is to hand over to my successor a stronger, more effective and cleaner Union that UAW members will be proud of for generations to come, and I very much look forward to meeting with Mr. Schneider," Gamble said.