GM wants to see documents UAW gave to federal government in corruption probe

Breana Noble Robert Snell
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. is demanding to see the 1.9 million documents the United Auto Workers has supplied to federal investigators amid a years-long corruption probe, along with internal communications involving collective bargaining, as the Detroit automaker pursues a racketeering case against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

The details come as the UAW on Thursday joined Fiat Chrysler in requesting a judge delay a subpoena demanding a "staggering" amount of documents concerning GM's allegations that a bribery conspiracy between the Italian American automaker and UAW officials corrupted three rounds of labor bargaining. GM says Fiat Chrysler attempted to harm the Detroit automaker so it could be taken over by Fiat Chrysler.

Fiat Chrysler has denied the claims and on Friday called for the suit to be dismissed.

GM alleges that a bribery conspiracy between Fiat Chrysler and the UAW corrupted three rounds of labor bargaining. The intent, says GM, was to harm the Detroit automaker so it could be taken over by the late Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, shown here.

Abigail Carter, the UAW's attorney, wrote that complying with the subpoena while motions to dismiss are pending would pose an undue burden for the union. "Compliance with the Subpoena will consume a substantial amount of UAW resources," she wrote, "while, at the same time, exposing elements of its confidential bargaining strategy to General Motors (and, potentially, its competitors)."

GM provided a list of 36 demands to the union, which is not a party in the case. In addition to the documents the UAW has supplied to the U.S. attorney, and documents and communications concerning negotiations with Fiat Chrysler and GM in 2009, 2011 and 2015, the subpoena requests all communications between the UAW and Fiat Chrysler's late CEO Sergio Marchionne and the three executives who have been convicted in the federal probe.

It also requested all documents and communications concerning any meetings between UAW leadership and GM CEO Mary Barra and former GM Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens in 2015. Marchionne made advances that year to merge Fiat Chrysler with GM.

"The UAW is one of several non-parties to the litigation that possess directly relevant evidence about FCA’s conspiracy to corrupt the collective bargaining process," GM spokesman Jim Cain said in a statement. "Given that the conspiracy covered over a decade, we believe it is imperative to begin the discovery process now in order to obtain evidence before it is lost or destroyed. We disagree with UAW’s motion on multiple grounds, and will respond in Court."

Most of the UAW's motion is spent defending itself against GM's claims that evidence could be in jeopardy following a July 2019 fire at the union's Solidarity House headquarters.

"The fire has had a negligible effect on the UAW's ability to fully respond and to continue producing documents in the ongoing government investigation," wrote Jeffrey Sodko, the UAW's deputy general counsel.

Pat McNulty, the Detroit Fire Department chief in charge of arson, on Friday said the department is still waiting for lab results to come back. Investigators sent computer batteries to a lab in Connecticut for a CT scan shortly after the fire, but haven’t heard back. The official cause remains undetermined and is still under investigation.

In October, fire officials had determined that the blaze started in a storage area with unused electronics and was not suspicious. The federal government has scrutinized the fire, as well, subpoenaing the union for security camera footage and visitor logs from that day, The Detroit News reported in December.

Sodko said the union in June 2018 implemented a "litigation hold," which instructed employees not to delete permanently any emails from the server, to preserve all hard-copy documents and not to modify or overwrite existing electronic documents. Email and electronic files have been stored in cloud-based servers for more than two years and are maintained off-site by a third-party vendor. Hard-copy documents, however, are stored at Solidarity House along with other satellite locations.

Approximately 13,000 boxes of paper records were transported off-site for cleaning following the fire, Sodko wrote. Roughly 80% have returned to the UAW as cleaning continues.

"If anything, UAW's ongoing cooperation with the U.S. Attorney's investigation, and its efforts to preserve documents following the fire that occurred on July 13, 2019, stand as strong evidence that the UAW will cooperate fully with its discovery obligations, if and when the case proceeds," Carter wrote.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider in November said he did not think reform efforts in the UAW demonstrated that the union was cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department.

GM also has served Fiat Chrysler with 55 document and four interrogation requests covering the interested bargaining agreement, communications between Fiat Chrysler's chairman and various UAW employees, communications concerning a potential merger with GM and communications between the Italian American automaker and French automaker Groupe PSA, with which FCA is looking to merge now.

In addition to the UAW, GM has sent subpoenas to eight people and organizations that are not parties in the case, including the UAW retirees' health care trust, former President Dennis Williams and former Vice President Norwood Jewell.

Jewell last week reported to a minimum-security prison to serve his 15-month sentence. He is one of eight UAW officials along with three Fiat Chrysler executives who have been convicted in the federal probe. Thirteen in total have been charged and Williams and his predecessor, former UAW President Gary Jones, have been implicated in the corruption.

Detroit News staff writer George Hunter contributed

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble