UAW, federal government reach settlement to reform union

An independent monitor will help root out corruption in the United Auto Workers union' and members will decide if they will vote directly on the union's leadership under a reform agreement with the U.S. Attorney's office.

The deal was announced Monday in the wake of a wide-ranging federal probe into corruption. It holds off a possible federal takeover of the 400,000-member union.

The monitor will stay in place for six years. The union has been in the throes of the scandal for over five years as the government probed bribery and embezzlement in its upper ranks. The investigation has led to 11 convictions, including two former UAW presidents.

Many of the officials were accused of conspiring with others to cover up the use of union cash for boozy meals, premium cigars, golf and lodging in Palm Springs, California.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who has called for the reforms, and current UAW President Rory Gamble attended a press conference at a Monday announcement.

In June, Schneider and Gamble discussed a monitor to make sure union corruption is rooted out for good. The two men met as the union tried to reform itself and avoid a possible federal takeover.

Schneider, whose office has been investigating union corruption since 2015, had floated the idea of a government takeover and has advocated for direct voting by members to elect union leadership. Currently the union's members vote on delegates to a convention, who then vote on a president. 

In a statement at the time, Schneider appeared to back off from the takeover possibility, saying he looks forward to a "mutually agreeable resolution that will protect the interests of the UAW's members and their families." Gamble and other union officials opposed a government takeover. 

An independent monitor would give union members the assurance of reforms "so as to reduce the possibility of a recurrence of corruption," the statement said. 

Former UAW President Dennis Williams in September pleaded guilty in the government's investigation, and his successor as president, Gary Jones, pleaded guilty in June.

Williams, 67, was president from 2014 until he retired in 2018. He was accused of conspiring with others to cover up the source of cash for expensive meals, cigars and large expenses. 

The union's Region 5 leadership, which was based in Missouri and headed by Jones, would hold weeklong retreats in Palm Springs and invite Williams along. He said he stayed beyond "what my union business required."

Williams told a judge that he wondered if money was being misused but that he was assured by Jones that "everything was above board."

More than $53,000 in union money was used to rent a villa for Williams for monthslong stays in 2015-18, according to a court filing.

He faces a likely prison sentence of 18 to 24 months.

With about 400,000 members, the Detroit-based UAW is best known for representing 150,000 workers at Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford Motor.

Williams has repaid $55,000 in inappropriate travel expenses, the union said. Separately, the UAW is selling a lakefront house built for him at a union conference center in northern Michigan.

Eleven union officials and a late official's spouse have pleaded guilty since 2017, although not all the crimes were connected. The first wave of convictions, which included some Fiat Chrysler employees, involved taking money from a Fiat Chrysler-UAW training center in Detroit.