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Dissenting UAW caucus member wants answers on legal fees, misappropriated funds

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers says it is preparing a response to a member of the dissenting caucus inside the union who is requesting financial information concerning misappropriated funds by and legal fees for union leaders and staff amid a years-long federal corruption probe into the UAW.

"This is kind of a test of the membership’s ability to police our own union,” said Scott Houldieson, chair of the Unite All Worker for Democracy caucus and a member of Local 551 in Chicago.

Scott Houldieson, an electrician at Ford Motor Co.'s Chicago Assembly plant, is chair of the dissenting Unite All Workers for Democracy caucus within the United Auto Workers.

The federal investigation has resulted in the convictions of 15 people, including former UAW presidents Gary Jones and Dennis Williams who have admitted to helping steal more than $1 million in dues from rank-and-file workers. Additionally, the UAW has spent more than $2.3 million on legal fees related to the scandal, including defending the convicted presidents, according to an annual filing with the U.S. Labor Department.

"A member of UAW Local 551, recently requested information from the International Union," UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said in a statement. "The Secretary-Treasurer’s office is in receipt of that request and will be providing information responsive to the member request in the coming days. It would be inappropriate to comment prior to our response to that member communication."

He added: "The information at issue here is provided in the annual LM-2 forms filed each year with the U.S. Department Of Labor and audited under our enhanced financial review systems that have been instituted."

Former UAW President Dennis Williams in September pled guilty to helping steal more than $1 million in union-member dues. He has repaid $55,000 in improper travel expenditures, according to the union, which also paid $320,912 for his legal fees.

Houldieson, however, says he is seeking clarity on exactly how much money was misappropriated and what measures the union is taking to recover the legal fees and stolen union funds. He sent the letter on Oct. 17, requesting a response by Friday.

"We would hope that is their goal," Houldieson said of recouping the funds. "That is their fiduciary responsibility. Part of the request is to keep the pressure on them to do that."

Since UAW President Rory Gamble succeeded Jones almost a year ago, the union's governing body has instituted procedures to recover the funds improperly or illegally taken and sought to increase communication and transparency with members, Rothenberg said.

"This is in addition to policies mandating individuals repay legal fees if they have pled guilty or been determined to have violated federal law or union policies," he said. "Steps have been taken to get repayment on legal fees incurred on behalf of Dennis Williams and Gary Jones."

Gamble in June said the union had recouped $55,000 from Williams for improper travel expenditures, but the UAW has paid $320,912 to cover his legal fees, according to the federal filing. It paid $24,599 for legal representation for Jones.

Since 2015, the UAW has paid more than $1.9 million to the Chicago law firm Cotsirilos, Tighe, Streicker, Poulos & Campbell since 2015, 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 union also has paid the legal costs for the following individuals who have not been charged in the probe, according to a breakdown in the federal filing:

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

• Secretary/Treasurer Ray Curry: $3,622

• Vice President Cynthia Estrada: $5,847

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble