No UAW resources can be used to advocate either way in 'one member, one vote' referendum

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

No United Auto Workers resources — for now — can be used to advocate for either side in the referendum election to determine whether the union should amend its constitution to allow for the direct election of international union leaders, according to interim rules posted on Friday.

Secret ballots will be sent to members by Oct. 12. The election is a part of a consent decree reached between the federal government and the beleaguered UAW following a years-long investigation into union corruption and embezzlement that resulted in the convictions of 15 people, including two former UAW presidents.

In finalizing the rules, the UAW and U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards reached an impasse over whether the union can use its resources to advocate for one side or the other. The UAW continues to work with the U.S. Justice Department over the possibility of limited or monitored use of its resources.

Until then, "any use of Union resources to advocate for either side of the Referendum will be a violation of these Interim Rules and is strictly prohibited," according to the rules, because "federal law prohibits the use of any Union or employer resources to promote the candidacy of any person in a Union election, and Union officers and employees may not campaign for a candidate on time paid for by the Union."

It adds: "Any improper advocacy, as defined by the Monitor, whether by word of mouth or otherwise, and expressly including any threats, intimidation, retaliation, penalty, discipline or improper interference or reprisal of any kind, or any similar conduct is strictly prohibited, and reports of such violations shall be investigated by the Monitor."

A UAW spokesman declined to comment. The UAW's court-appointed monitor is New York attorney Neil Barofsky.

Individuals or groups within the union will be able to advocate for one side or the other. They must register with the monitor by Sept. 15 to form a coalition and participate in a referendum forum webcast on Sept. 29.

Traditionally, delegates elected by local unions have selected the 13 members of the union's governing International Executive Board. But for roughly 70 years, one group of members known as the Reuther or Administrative Caucus has dominated the union's leadership. Allowing the members themselves to choose their leaders could result in union officials being more accountable to the rank and file, former U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider has suggested.

A new caucus formed last year, Unite All Workers for Democracy, had discussions on the development of the rules with the monitor, said Scott Houldieson, the group's chair. The caucus, which supports the implementation of the "one member, one vote" elections, advocated that if union resources are used, information provided should explain both sides of the issue.

"We believe for a fair process, you need to offer equal space for both sides, and that's strictly informative," Houldieson said. "We’d be happy if they said why the referendum is coming up."

The election will include one question, according to the interim rules: "whether to keep the current method of electing members of the IEB in which elected local union delegates to the UAW’s Constitutional Convention vote for IEB members, or whether the method should be changed to a direct election by which each UAW member shall directly elect the members of the IEB." The monitor will determine the final language.

Any member in good standing as of Nov. 1, including retirees, will have their vote counted, according to the rules. The ballots must be submitted by 5 p.m. Nov. 12 and counted by the election vendor as soon as possible. The monitor and Office of Labor-Management Standards will oversee the counting. Prior to then, the UAW and monitor will conduct a multi-phase process to encourage members to update their mailing and email address.

The monitor will share the unofficial results, but it must be certified. The OLMS will provide a statement about whether the vote was conducted properly. The federal court will make a final determination as to the validity of the referendum results. Anyone who says they were aggrieved by the monitor may appeal within 30 days.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble