UAW stems membership decline as corruption costs soar

Robert Snell Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit  — The United Auto Workers gained more than 3,100 members last year and paid almost $81 million in benefits to striking workers, according to a federal filing Tuesday that revealed escalating costs of a federal corruption investigation.

UAW membership totaled 398,829 last year, an increase of more than 3,100 people, according to the union's annual LM-2 Labor Department filing. In 2018, the UAW lost more than 35,000 members in 2018, a 9% decrease.

Former United Auto Workers presidents Gary Jones, left, and Dennis Williams.

The filing shows striking workers were paid $80,723,635 in benefits during a 40-day strike against General Motors Co. The strike fund totaled $739 million at the end of 2019.

The filing Tuesday also revealed how the UAW has spent more than $2.3 million on legal fees related to the scandal, including money spent representing key labor leaders during the ongoing investigation, including former presidents Gary Jones and Dennis Williams. The filing shows the UAW has paid more than $1.9 million to the Chicago law firm Cotsirilos, Tighe, Streicker, Poulos & Campbell since 2015.

That's the year the federal investigation emerged publicly when prosecutors filed liens on the homes of former Fiat Chrysler Vice President Alphons Iacobelli and Monica Morgan-Holiefield, the widow of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield.

The UAW provided an itemized breakdown of legal costs for several current and former union leaders last year. That includes:

• Williams: $320,912 

• Retired Secretary/Treasurer Gary Casteel: $68,094

• Jones: $24,599 

• Secretary/Treasurer Ray Curry: $3,622

• Vice President Cynthia Estrada $5,847

“In general, it’s been the practice of the UAW to cover the legal costs of former leadership related to their leadership roles until such time as they are charged or found to have wrongdoing," UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said.

As for union membership, Rothenberg said: “We have really increased in the last nine or 10 years; we’ve only had one year where there was a decrease in membership. We continue to organize and add new members in many different sectors.”

The filing Tuesday also showed a drop in net assets last year. The union posted net assets of $994,119,758, down from $1,004,894,958 a year earlier.