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Howes: Government takeover of the UAW a "near certainty"

Gary Jones stands at a UAW podium
United Auto Workers

The biggest of the United Auto Workers’ bad apples fell to earth this week in the crackdown on union corruption.

The feds charged former President Gary Jones with embezzling union funds in a racketeering conspiracy … and with defrauding the IRS of income taxes. Each of the counts could land the 63-year-old union leader in prison for up to five years.

Jones is alleged to have masterminded an interstate conspiracy to embezzle member dues and pocket some of the cash. But if he cooperates with investigators, as expected, the ex-president could be the same guy who helps build the case for a federal takeover of the union.

It would be humiliating for the UAW and its reputation as a “clean union.” It would be humiliating for the members whose dues fueled poolside villas and booze, cigars and rounds of golf. It would be humiliating for leaders who survive – unless a takeover deal with the feds forces an entire layer of them to resign.

This is no theoretical threat. U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider used a news conference this week to say a government takeover of the union remains under consideration … and he pointed to the Teamsters’ decades-long experience as a potential model to emulate.

That’s exactly what Jones’ successor, President Rory Gamble, wants to avoid. He says he wants to, quote, “save my union” and prove it can responsibly run its own affairs. But the expanding record of charges, evidence and convictions – much of it clustered in the upper-most reaches of leadership – suggests that will be increasingly hard to demonstrate.

The federal investigation has produced charges against one former UAW president and enmeshed two others. Two former vice presidents have been convicted … a third was implicated after his death from cancer a few years ago … and a fourth is said to be under federal scrutiny. Current and former regional directors and staffers were charged in schemes financed by training center funds, member dues or both.

Altogether, 14 individuals – 11 of them connected to the UAW – have been charged in the corruption. And federal authorities signaled in toughly worded language that they are not close to done.

An IRS official accused Jones of creating “a culture of corruption that became standard practice … for over a decade … using other people’s money.”

The FBI’s special agent expressed “collective disgust at the illegal conduct of auto executives and union officials.”

And the U.S. attorney said the federal investigation is “another step closer to ridding the UAW of its corrupt leadership.”

The message is unmistakable: this array of agencies detailing the case against Jones clearly signals that federal oversight is a near certainty … and the tool to make it happen would be the kind of civil racketeering lawsuit that broomed an entire cadre of Teamsters leaders and imposed direct elections on the union Hoffa built.

With each new set of charges … and the convictions that follow … the UAW is more likely to get its turn.

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Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.
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