Editorial: UAW needs a deeper house cleaning

The Detroit News

Rory Gamble, interim president of the United Auto Workers, is taking some solid first steps to rid the union of the corruption that has led to federal charges against a dozen of its top officials, and 10 convictions.

Gamble laid out a multi-point ethics overhaul last week designed to bring accountability to the union and make it easier to detect future misdeeds.

UAW President Rory Gamble.

The UAW will establish an ethics hotline and bring on an ethics ombudsman to review and respond to complaints about wrongdoing. Suspected violations will be sent on to an independent ethics officer, who will not be an employee of the union, for investigation.

It also will increase financial oversight authority of its accounting department and outside auditors.

Charities run or controlled by UAW officials will be banned from receiving donations from any joint program with the automakers, or any UAW vendors or employees. Among the charges against the UAW officers is that they shook down the companies, contractors and union members for donations to their personal charities, with some the money finding its way into their own pockets.

Gamble's plan also promises tougher enforcement policies and more aggressive efforts to recover money stolen from the union.

And in an important symbolic gesture, the UAW will sell off the luxury cabin it built for former President Dennis Williams at its Black Lake conference center in northern Michigan. 

That's good for Phase One. But it should be closely followed by more stringent commitments.

First among those must be to hire an independent investigator to conduct an internal probe. The UAW must demonstrate its own interest in uncovering wrongdoing at the very top of its ranks.

Immediate past president Gary Jones is accused in a $700,000 dues-embezzlement scheme and is on paid leave. Williams, who was Jones' predecessor, is also a target of the feds. Most of those charged worked for either Jones or Williams, or both. Are there others still on the UAW payroll who participated in the schemes, or failed to report them? The union should do its best to find out.  

The findings of the independent investigation should be turned over to federal investigators, and ultimately released to the UAW membership.

 The union should also take steps to break down the cronyism that has enabled UAW leaders to handpick their successors, perpetuating a culture of blind loyalty to those at the top. Future presidents and other officers should be elected by a direct vote of the membership. 

A more thorough house cleaning is in the UAW's best interests. Given the reach of the corruption uncovered by the feds, the union will be lucky to avoid formal oversight by the Justice Department.

The UAW can ask its friends at the Teamsters Union what that means. The Teamsters spent 25 years under a federal oversight order, at a cost of $170 million.

The United Auto Workers union is in big trouble. The scrubbing started by Gamble must go much, much deeper.