UAW monitor publishes rules for first direct election

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers' independent monitor on Wednesday published the rules for the union's first mail-in, direct election of International Executive Board members that will be held starting in October, detailing campaign finance rules and eligibility requirements.

UAW members in December voted to adopt the "one member, one vote" system over the historically used delegate system to select international union leaders. The referendum was a requirement of a consent decree reached between the U.S. Justice Department and the UAW in December 2020. The agreement followed a years-long investigation into union corruption that resulted in the convictions of 17 people, including two former UAW presidents.

Neil Barofsky is the court-appointed monitor of the United Auto Workers.

The rules will leave up to delegates at a constitutional convention this summer whether the election is held with a run-off if a candidate doesn't win a majority in an initial ballot or with a ranked choice system. They allow retirees to participate in the election, though not as candidates, and detail campaign finance rules and disclosures, including addressing the use of so-called flower funds federal investigators probed as a part of their investigation.

The UAW's court-appointed, independent monitor, New York attorney Neil Barofksy, published the rule in a six-month update.

The first ballots will be sent by mail to members on Oct. 17. Members will be able to request ballots or a replacement through Nov. 11. The ballots must be received by the designated post office for collection by 4 p.m. Nov. 28. The monitor encourages members to return their ballots no later than Nov. 18. Unofficial results will be shared as soon as practicable after the election vendor begins the tabulation at 9 a.m. Nov. 29.

Active UAW members, though not retirees, will be eligible to run for the 13-member executive board. A challenge to this decision, however, is in progress. Retirees will be able to cast a ballot in the election.

Members will have until three days after the nominations for each officer are made during the constitutional convention being held July 25-28 in Detroit to submit a candidate declaration form with the monitor to run. There isn't a minimum threshold of support needed to get a candidate's name on the ballot, though the UAW and the monitor will vet candidates to meet eligibility requirements in the union's constitution. Prospective candidates found guilty of fraudulent or corrupt activity in court or in a UAW disciplinary proceeding are prohibited.

"The Monitor’s role in vetting candidates under these criteria is purely objective — the Monitor will not opine on the suitability of any prospective candidate beyond these specific eligibility criteria," Barofsky wrote in the report.

Candidates may form a slate of allied candidates by filing with the monitor by Sept. 1. The slate will be noted on ballots, though members won't have to vote for a single slate of candidates. Candidates may be a part of more than one slate, though a slate can consist of only one candidate per office.

Every candidate, slate or covered party must have an independent bank account for election-related funds as the sole source for campaign payments. The monitor will require periodic disclosures.

Union and employer resources are the only prohibited sources of campaign funding. Contributors, whether individuals or entities, will be required to disclose their identity, whether supporting a candidate or a specific cause.

The monitor did consider restrictions such as a prohibition on funds from non-members or campaign contribution limits, "but ultimately determined that implementing these types of prohibitions was impractical given the short time available to prepare a campaign finance system for this Election," Barofsky wrote.

The rules do address the use of so-called flower funds. They originally were established to pay for flowers for autoworkers' funerals, but prosecutors have said that senior UAW staff were forced to contribute to the funds, The Detroit News previously reported.

"The Rules, applying to all funds intended to be used in connection with the Election regardless of when collected, may impact the ability of Candidates, Slates, or Covered Parties from utilizing multi-purpose funds, like some of the Union’s Officers’ so-called 'flower funds,' in connection with this Election," Barofsky wrote. "Such funds are not categorically prohibited, but the individuals seeking to utilize them in connection with the Election must demonstrate complete adherence to the True Source and True Purpose Rules, or the funds in question will not be usable."

One major question in how the election will be conducted will be left to delegates elected by local union chapters to the UAW's constitutional convention. Delegates will decide whether the vote will use ranked choice voting or a runoff.

Ranked choice voting is a system in which voters rank candidates for each office. If no candidate receives a majority, votes from candidates with the least amount of votes are redistributed to their second-choice candidates until a candidate obtains a majority.

A runoff would take the top two candidates for each office and require a second round of voting if there is no majority winner in the first.

Advocates for the ranked choice system say it would save the union millions of dollars on a second round of voting and prevent results from being delayed by months, Barofsky wrote. They also expressed concerns there would be a drop-off in the number of voters who participate in a runoff election.

The UAW's executive board, however, expressed concerns that ranked choice isn't used by other major unions and that it could result in the election of officers who aren't the first choice of the majority of voters, Barofsky noted.

If candidates receive a majority of votes, they will be sworn in within seven days of the unofficial results. If a runoff is needed, ballots will be distributed no later than January and returned and counted in February. Victors then would be sworn in within seven days of those unofficial results.

A forum will be held in September for the candidates running for international president.

The rules also forbid retaliation or threats by the international UAW, local unions or members against other members or employee for advocating for or donating to candidates or a slate.

The UAW monitor wrote the rules with input from the UAW's executive board, its counsel and other members.

In passage of the referendum, there were 140,586 votes cast of the UAW's nearly 1 million members. Direct elections passed with a nearly 64% majority.

As a part of the consent decree, the UAW is responsible for the cost of the reform efforts. The firm Jenner & Block for which Barofsky works was paid $1,951,258 for the first four months of work last year, according to a filing with the U.S. Labor Department.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble