Ex-UAW communications directors call for union's entire executive board to resign

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Two former communications directors for the United Auto Workers are calling for "radical remediation" of the international union amid a widening federal corruption probe that reaches the highest levels of the organization's leadership.

The Rev. Peter Laarman, who ran the union's public relations department from 1985 to 1990, and Frank Joyce, who ran it from 1990 to 2002, in an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press on Friday night, broke what they called an "institutional code of silence" to give a scathing rebuke of the UAW leadership for abandoning the practices of the formerly "squeaky-clean organization built by the union’s earlier generations." They called for the resignations of the UAW's entire international executive board and the assistance of the Canadian auto workers union to help reconstitute the leadership.

UAW members picket in front of GM's headquarters at the Renaissance Center on Friday.

"Based on the number of indictments, guilty pleas and raids so far, it’s obviously not just one or two rotten apples," Laarman and Joyce wrote. "It’s a whole bushel."

The op-ed comes as the UAW is negotiating a new labor contract with General Motors Co. and is poised to enter day 20 of its national strike against the Detroit automaker. Meanwhile, the federal investigation into union corruption has led to nine convictions, charges against two more people, and has implicated UAW President Gary Jones and his predecessor, Dennis Williams.

Neither Jones nor Williams have been charged, but The Detroit News last month identified them as unnamed officials accused of orchestrating a years-long conspiracy that involved embezzling $1 million in member dues and spending the money on personal luxuries in an affidavit written by Labor Department Special Agent Andrew Donohue in a criminal complaint. The complaint charged UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, Jones' successor and former aide, with embezzling union funds, mail and wire fraud, and money laundering.

"Bad as it is, massive corruption is not the darkest cloud shadowing this necessary and long-revered organization," Laarman and Joyce wrote. "What stands revealed is that today’s UAW has completely lost its way in respect to mission and purpose."

The UAW did not immediately respond to request for comment Friday evening.

The authors condemned the union's elected officers and board members for proving "incapable of even acknowledging the extent of corruption, let alone fixing it." They noted Pearson remains an officer in good standing following the charges.

"Not one International UAW officer or staff member has publicly called for him to step down," they wrote. "The UAW seems to have outsourced its ethics to officials of the Trump administration. To put it another way, UAW leaders have abandoned all pretense of performing the self-policing functions that were hallmarks of the squeaky-clean organization built by the union’s earlier generations."

Laarman and Joyce said the "head-in-the-sand posture" is unacceptable and that silence is "not serving the union now."

"We cannot, in good conscience, continue to mutter privately while biting our tongues publicly, as many of our former and current UAW colleagues are doing," they wrote.

Joyce and Laarman said statements about cooperating with federal investigators and adopting new joint program accounting controls are insufficient measures. They called for the resignation of the entire international's executive board, which is made up of the union's president, secretary-treasurer, three vice presidents assigned to each of the Detroit Three, and nine regional directors.

"The members of the union’s International Executive Board should resign," Joyce and Laarman wrote. "All of them. Senior staff assisting current officers and board members are themselves 'see no evil, hear no evil,' enablers. They too should resign."

The authors suggested an interim team operate the union and develop a process of transparency to "democratically reconstitute" the union's leadership. They suggested Canadian auto union Unifor could assist in the process.

The op-ed authors also took aim at the training centers that the UAW operates with and are funded by the Detroit Three automakers. Joyce and Laarman said the programs should be suspended after they were used as pipelines to embezzle funds for bribes and kickbacks.

"There are times when only a fresh start can save a valued institution," they concluded. "For the UAW, this is that time."