Editorial: Place UAW under federal oversight
Matthew Schneider’s declaration that federal prosecutors “are not done” taking down corrupt United Auto Workers officials raises the obvious question: Just how many more union scoundrels are out there?
Schneider, the U.S. attorney in Detroit, said last week’s long-awaited charges against former UAW President Gary Jones for embezzlement, racketeering and tax evasion doesn’t bring the investigation to a close, even though most of the union's top ranks are either in jail or headed there.
Thirteen have already been convicted. Still under investigation are Dennis Williams, Jones’ predecessor as president, and Rory Gamble, Jones’ replacement. Williams has been directly implicated in the probe; Gamble has not.
Union leaders have been convicted of draining dues from the UAW’s 400,000 members to live like kings, traveling to luxury resorts, enjoying expensive dinners and loading up on pricey golf equipment. Jones alone is accused of embezzling more than $1 million.
This is not a mess the UAW can be trusted to clean up itself. The stain is too widespread, and there are too few honest officials left. Even those top leaders who haven't been implicated are compromised by their association with Jones and others who have.
Schneider, in announcing the charges against Jones, said a government takeover of the union is under consideration. It should become a reality. The Justice Department should move to place the UAW under federal oversight.
It took that step three decades ago with the Teamsters union. The government supervision lasted roughly 30 years — longer than necessary in our view — and purged the Teamsters, once little more than an auxiliary of the Mafia, of corrupt influences.
The UAW needs the same deep cleansing.
Federal oversight would impose much-needed reforms, including stronger financial accountability and direct election of union officers.
A movement that started among a few of the UAW’s 600 locals to elect officials by direct vote, instead of by acclamation of their cronies, is progressing slowly. Some locals are also working to get the 20% membership support required to hold a constitutional convention.
The so-called Reuther Administrative Caucus of the UAW has had an iron grip on leadership since the 1940s, and even this humiliating scandal is not likely to break it going forward. The workers whose dues financed the surf-and-turf lifestyle of corrupt bosses should be the ones who decide who will lead the UAW in the post-scandal future.
The UAW was once one of America's proudest and cleanest labor unions. Now it’s a cesspool.
The corruption apparently is not contained to those individuals who have been indicted. It infects the very structure of the union.
UAW members are best served by a government monitored reordering of that structure, aimed at rooting out any remaining corruption and preventing its return.