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Amid ongoing corruption investigation, UAW members offer thoughts on the future of their union

The UAW has been striking since September 16.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
UAW members working at GM plants recently went on a 40-day strike, demanding changes to the company's contract with the union.

It’s a challenging time, to say the least, for the United Auto Workers Union. The UAW’s president is on paid leave amidst a widening federal corruption probe, which has resulted in 13 charges and 10 guilty pleas.

Acting president Rory Gamble has pledged to “clean up” the UAW, but how do its rank and file members feel about their union’s future?

Nicole Henning works at General Motor's Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant and is a member of UAW Local 602. Willie Holmes is president of UAW Local 167 in West Michigan, and he works at GM's parts plant in Wyoming.

Holmes said that revelations regarding the corruption at the UAW’s top levels are “disheartening,” and that many union members feel they’ve been taken advantage of by their leadership. Henning echoed that sentiment.

“We elect leaders in positions to represent our UAW as a whole, and they’re put in those positions to do what they think is best…” Henning said. “So when they do things that jeopardize our image or jeopardize the trust of our members, it’s really disappointing.”

In order to rebuild members’ trust, Henning said new UAW leaders will have to show that “they’re willing to change.” She’s believes that many of the steps they have announced so far “will create a lot more transparency” and ensure that members will have a better idea of what’s going on within their union.

Holmes also notes that union members have been “unbelievably engaged” as the corruption probe has played out. They were also the main force pushing for the recent 40-day strike. 

“It wasn’t the leadership for once, it was actually the membership that decided to strike. So as president, at that point, I was proud to be president because I thought to myself ‘Well now these members really, truly understand what it means to be engaged with your union,'” Holmes said.

Henning argued that if the actions of “one person or very few people” are allowed to speak for the entire union’s membership, it will give the UAW “a very bad image.”

“I want people to understand that our union isn’t just the people at the top, it’s not just the people that we elect to represent us,” Henning said. “Our union is all of us, every member that pays union dues, every person that stands up and volunteers in the community.”

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