Bankole: Labor groups should be watchdogs for members

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

The Armageddon-like battle that leaders of the United Auto Workers waged in 2013 against Gov. Rick Snyder for making Michigan a right-to-work state — where union dues are no longer a condition for employment — centered on the premise that labor protects the interests of the men and women working in auto plants.

In an effort to prove its role in protecting the earned benefits of the “little guy,” labor argued that paying union dues helped insure workers against the excesses and abuses of corporate power.

But details being revealed in the bribery proceedings in federal court in the ongoing corruption scandal involving the UAW and Fiat Chrysler paint a completely different picture than that portrayed by union officials in their vehement opposition to “right to work.”

At the center of the probe, lies the question of whether some former officials at the UAW were truly representing their workers’ interests during contract negotiations or meeting the needs of some self-serving corporate executives?

A case in point is the recent jaw-dropping revelation by former FCA labor negotiator Alphons Iacobelli, in his confession, that he and other company officials, including Jerome Durden, a former financial analyst, made illegal payments to UAW officials to influence contract negotiations.

The payments, according to the confession were meant to “obtain benefits concessions and advantages for FCA in the negotiation, implementation, and administration of the collective bargaining agreements between FCA and the UAW.”

These statements raise serious questions about the culture that existed within the labor group as it relates to its dealings with FCA.

If true, that means some in the leadership of labor have been deceiving their members.

At the very least the rank and file of labor deserve an apology as well as a full explanation about how this could have happened.

The idea that corruption found its way into the UAW negotiations, where executives from FCA sought to corrupt those who were sitting on the other side of the negotiating table, questions the whole conduct of those meetings.

Now we know from this plea deal that the federal probe is deeper and wider than originally thought.

It cannot be dismissed as an isolated incident involving one or two officials.

Think about how damaging this is for the reputation of the UAW, an organization that professes to be a vanguard against the abuses meted out against the working class.

Think about the task ahead for the UAW in seeking to rebuild its image after the man who led labor negotiations for an auto company, alleged in court that money exchanged hands during the time when labor officials were negotiating deals for their members.

These revelations undermine labor’s long advanced moral arguments about its goals of protecting and respecting the dignity of workers.

If some in the leadership of the state’s preeminent labor organization allegedly failed to demonstrate transparency and respect for their workers, as revealed thus far, how can they expect others outside to treat them fairly? They have to live the words they preach to the world.

One lesson in this saga is about the need to resist the corrupting influence of power. Leaders should know that power, if used properly, can greatly benefit the people they claim to represent. If abused, there are consequences and that is what is playing out right now in federal court.

Labor leaders should not ever give the appearance of being a stooge to corruption. Rather they should be a watchdog against it while protecting their members.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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