Editorial: Workers should demand better from UAW

The Detroit News

After a year of scandals emerging from the top ranks of the United Auto Workers, members ought to consider whether their fealty to the union is worth it. Union leadership clearly misused the dues — and trust — of hard-working members around the country, and the union should be forced to clean house.

Signs hang in November from windows at the UAW Local 1112 union hall, in Lordstown, Ohio. UAW workers should demand better from the union.

A former high-ranking UAW official, Nancy Adams Johnson, was sentenced Tuesday to one year and one day in federal prison, following an investigation into corruption involving not just the UAW but also executives at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. She pleaded guilty in July to violating a federal labor law, and has implicated former UAW president Dennis Williams and numerous others. 

As the union prepares for the next round of contract negotiations with Detroit automakers next year, members should demand union officials have their best interests in mind. 

The UAW has a very loyal base, even as other unions are struggling to maintain their rosters. Last year, the union added about 15,000 members and topped 430,000 members nationally. It’s the eighth straight year the union has grown — and that’s despite more states, including Michigan, becoming right to work, which gives employees the ability to opt out of union dues or fees and still keep their jobs.

As union membership is declining in the country, it remains higher in Michigan. The national union membership rate was 10.7 percent in 2017, while in Michigan it was 16.8 percent — a slight increase over 2016.

It may take more UAW members leaving to make the union feel the sting of the dissatisfaction with the scandals. 

The Detroit News has outlined the union’s bad behavior in a series of investigative reports:

  • The UAW is under scrutiny from federal investigators for officials’ use of nearly $1 million in membership dues on lavish expenses in Palm Springs, California, such as liquor, meals, golf and condos. It doesn’t appear that the expenses were tied to any legitimate union business, even though this was supposed to be an annual training conference. Fiat Chrysler executives were also involved. 
  • The UAW is building Williams, who retired earlier this year, a lakefront home near Cheboygan. We couldn’t help but notice the irony that the UAW is using nonunion labor to build the home in an effort to save money. The fancy cottage sits on the UAW's Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center — 1,000 acres funded with interest from the union’s $721 million strike fund (financed by workers’ dues). 
Construction equipment sits outside an unfinished new cottage for retired UAW President Dennis Williams on the UAW property on Black Lake, near Cheboygan.

F. Vincent Vernuccio, a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center and an expert in labor policy, predicts the union’s base in the Midwest will stay strong — for now. The UAW’s misdeeds are likely to have the most impact in recruiting new members in the South.

The union failed again last year in a bid to unionize workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi.

UAW workers here should also hold their union to account, and ensure their dues are well spent.