As the UAW Strikes, Its President Tries to Pump the Brakes on a Corruption Rap
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the leader behind America’s biggest strike since 2007 is compromised.
By Eugene S. Robinson
When FBI agents knocked at Gary Jones’ 3,563-square-foot mansion outside Detroit on Aug. 28 — the one with the curved staircase, stone hearth fireplace, gourmet kitchen and brick-paved patio — they weren’t paying the United Auto Workers president a social call.
As it became increasingly clear in a complaint unsealed the next day, Jones, who was not specifically named in the original indictment, was now, along with other UAW officials, being accused of misspending union funds. In ways aligned precisely with what you might expect from folks accused of misusing monies: lavish purchases of finer libations, expensive cigars, golf clubs and trips to places in California where those items would come in handy.
“The investigation has also uncovered a multiyear conspiracy,” said U.S. Labor Department agent Andrew Donohue in a court filing. The alleged conspiracy involved the aforementioned senior UAW officials “embezzling, stealing and unlawfully and willfully abstracting and converting UAW funds to purchase luxury items and accommodations for their own personal benefit.”
The curious timing sparked conspiratorial whispers …
It was a wrong turn for Jones, who has been a union member since 1975 and is a University of Tulsa grad. A certified public accountant, Jones — prior to assuming the post of president last year — oversaw 17 states in the union’s Region 5 as a director. While everything about Jones and his alleged co-conspirators screams “should have known better,” the boxes seized in the raid were cherries on the top of an extended investigation.
It all arrived right on the cusp of the expiration of UAW’s contract with the nation’s Big Three automakers over the weekend. The result on Monday was 49,000 members of the 400,000-member union leaving factory floors, setting up picket lines, shutting down 22 parts distribution centers and 33 manufacturing plants in nine states — America’s biggest strike since 2007.
The curious timing sparked conspiratorial whispers from the rank and file. The sneaking sensation? That a much fatter thumb was on the scale influencing affairs. “Call me cynical but I feel the Trump administration willfully timed this to coincide with our negotiations,” UAW assembly plant worker Sean Crawford told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re getting ready to go into one of the biggest negotiations of our lifetime and we’re possibly going to lose faith in our union … it makes us all look bad.”
Speaking of losing faith: Wages for auto workers have fallen 2.1 percent over the past decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, federal agents pulled more than $30,000 in cash from Jones’ house during the Aug. 28 raid, leading General Motors to pile on in an official statement that “there is no excuse for union officials to enrich themselves at the expense of the union membership they represent.”
As for the strike, GM tweeted Sunday that “the offer we presented to the UAW prioritizes employees, communities and builds a stronger future for all. It includes improved wages and health care benefits, over $7B in U.S. investments and 5,400 jobs. Let’s come together and secure our shared future.” Talks were ongoing as of Monday night.
While Jones himself is not responding to requests for comment, the UAW appears to be backing his play, evidenced by a recently released statement that said that “while these allegations are very concerning, we strongly believe that the government has misconstrued any number of facts and emphasize that these are merely allegations, not proof of wrongdoing.”
Jones survived an apparent effort to oust him from the union presidency at a meeting Friday. But at the same time, his face has been nowhere to be seen in news media coverage of the strike — with other UAW reps trotted out before the cameras and on the phone to reporters.
The livelihoods of 400,000 UAW workers and fates of companies that have long been synonymous with America are on the line. It leaves Jones either a symbol of organized labor’s excesses or a pawn in a much larger government-backed chess game. Or both.