Gupta violated MSU policy, but discipline against him was 'disproportionate,' report says

GM strike, day 21: UAW says talks 'take turn for the worse'

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers national strike against General Motors Co. is poised to begin its fourth week Monday after negotiations took "a turn for the worse" over the weekend, Vice President Terry Dittes told union local presidents and chairpersons in a letter sent Sunday.

The UAW "cannot be more disappointed" with GM's refusal "to recognize the experience and talent" of its members, Dittes, director of the union's GM department, wrote in the letter sent on the 21st day of the strike that has 46,000 GM employees walking picket lines.

On Saturday afternoon, UAW bargainers presented a proposal to the company that addressed issues surrounding wages, signing bonuses, job security, pensions, skilled trades and transfer rights, among others. But the company did not address the UAW's proposal on Sunday morning and instead "reverted back to their last rejected proposal and made little change," according to the union.

The union's package addressed a minimum of 35 hourly proposals and three salary proposals "in an effort to move this set of negotiations to the next step to reach a tentative agreement," Dittes wrote in an email to Scott Sandefur, vice president of GM North America's labor relations.

On Sunday morning, "you didn't even have a professional courtesy to explain why you could not accept or why you rejected our package proposal we presented yesterday. The law and basic decency require no less," Dittes wrote to Sandefur.

Dittes told local presidents and chairpersons GM's proposal "did nothing to provide job security during the term of this agreement." He added that the company has shown "an unwillingness to fairly compensate the great workforce of the UAW."

In a statement responding to the Dittes letter, GM said: “We continue to negotiate in good faith with very good proposals that benefit employees today and builds a stronger future for all of us. We are committed to continuing discussions around the clock to reach a resolution.”

In a surprisingly detailed response to the UAW's strike announcement on Sept. 15, GM outlined its offer to the union that promises more than $7 billion in investments over the life of a new contract. The automakers said it would create more than 5,400 jobs, boost base wages, pay lump-sum bonuses, improve benefits — and, The Detroit News has learned, rescue its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant from closure and build a new battery plant near the idled Lordstown plant in Ohio.

"The economics presented in GM’s offer on Sept. 14 were likely contingent upon some level of cost offsets relative to health care and temporary workers," said Colin Lightbody, a former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV labor negotiator and president of HR and Labor Guru Inc.

The UAW reported “good progress” on temporary workers and health care in a letter issued on Friday. Dittes didn't mention either issue in his letter issued Sunday.

"My guess is the UAW made some movement on these two topics and may be expecting GM to up the ante significantly on the economics in order to justify this three-week strike to its members," Lightbody said. "GM may not be willing to reciprocate to the extent the union expects."

The impact of the UAW national strike will start to show more as the strike enters its fourth week on Monday if no tentative agreement is reached before then. Picketers have now missed two regular paychecks from GM. Auto suppliers who make parts for GM are having to issue layoff notices. And GM has laid off about 10,000 non-UAW employees in Ontario, Ohio and Mexico. 

As talks continue, the UAW is making an executive move in response to the continuing federal investigation into union corruption. Vance Pearson, a member of the union's governing International Executive Board and the director of UAW Region 5, was placed on leave on Friday, nearly one month after Pearson was charged with embezzling union funds, mail and wire fraud, and money laundering.

UAW GM and Aramark Local 160 active members and one retiree wave at beeping motorists as they picket in front of Gate 11 at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Saturday, October 5, 2019.

In a statement, the UAW said its focus "is to act in the best interest of the more than 400,000 UAW members across this country. We take all allegations seriously. For that reason, as of Oct. 4, 2019, Vance Pearson began a leave of absence from the IUAW."

Vance Pearson

UAW officials in Detroit will oversee Region 5 for now, and Jim Soldate, Region 5 assistant director, will continue in his capacity, according to the statement. The union's Solidarity House will maintain formal oversight of Region 5, which will submit its activity reports to the union's International Executive Board.

The Saint Charles, Missouri, home of Pearson, UAW President Gary Jones' successor and former aide in Region 5, was one of the locations in four states raided by federal agents in August. Agents also searched the homes of Jones and his predecessor, Dennis Williams, though neither of them have been charged.

An affidavit written by Labor Department Special Agent Andrew Donohue in the criminal complaint against Pearson details a years-long conspiracy that involved embezzling $1 million in member dues and spending the money on personal luxuries. The Detroit News identified two unnamed officials involved in orchestrating the scandal as Jones and Williams.

The criminal case focuses on lavish spending by UAW officials during conferences in Missouri and California and provides the most detailed government account of alleged misspending in Palm Springs, including $120,000 for cigars, steak dinners and drinks, and 107 rounds of golf. The News reported the government's interest in Palm Springs in September 2018.

From 2014 to 2018, a period that covers Jones' tenure leading UAW Region 5, Pearson and other leaders submitted phony expense forms seeking reimbursement from UAW headquarters, prosecutors said in an affidavit. The phony expenses were supposedly tied to UAW Region 5 leadership and training conferences.

Three days after being charged, Pearson attended negotiations with GM in Detroit, though he was not a member of the UAW-GM national bargaining team and did not vote on if the union should strike.

Pearson's leave comes as two former UAW communications directors, Frank Joyce and Rev. Peter Laarman, used an op-ed Friday to break what they called an "institutional code of silence." They issued 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, Unifor, to help reconstitute the leadership. Specifically, they condemned the lack of action against Pearson.

"Vance Pearson remains an officer in good standing," they wrote in the op-ed provided to the Detroit Free Press. "Not one International UAW officer or staff member has publicly called for him to step down. The UAW seems to have outsourced its ethics to officials of the Trump administration."

The op-ed signals growing discontent among union insiders over the leadership's handling of the continuing federal corruption investigation that has produced charges against 11 individuals and nine convictions. And the implication of Jones, among others, looms over talks to end the UAW's longest national strike against GM since 1970.

Twitter: @bykaleahall