Federal corruption probe leads to first major overhaul of UAW elections in 70 years


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Gary Jones, the newly-elected President of the United Auto Workers (UAW), addresses the 37th UAW Constitutional Convention June14, 2018 at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan. 

Bill Pugliano | Getty Images News | Getty Images

DETROIT – A federal corruption probe into the United Auto Workers has led to an overhaul of the union’s elections, potentially bringing an end to a more than 70-year leadership dynasty under which recent leaders accepted bribes and embezzled millions in members’ dues and funds.

UAW members and retirees voted to change the union’s process of electing leaders from a weighted, delegate-based system to a direct, or “one member, one vote,” election, according to preliminary results published Thursday by a court-appointed UAW monitor.

Of 140,586 votes, 63.7%, favored adopting the “one member, one vote” system with 36.3% preferring the status quo, the monitor reported.

Both the monitor and vote, which still needs to be certified, were results of a settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and union to end a corruption investigation that sent15 people to prison, including two recent UAW presidents and three Fiat Chrysler executives.

Officials say it’s unclear how the new voting system will impact companies with workers represented by the UAW, specifically the Detroit automakers. Current leaders could remain in power as a slate backed by a caucus or run independently. An overhaul of union leadership also could occur, creating a wild card situation for companies and potentially placing inexperienced or more combative bargainers in leadership positions.

“There could be one or more or all new leadership at the helm of the union after elections are held,” said Kristin Dziczek, senior vice president of research at the Center for Automotive Research. “Whoever wins, caucus or non-caucus, the consequences for companies is that these are going to be folks who want to show value to the membership to get re-elected. The way to hold on to their powers is to get the workers better contracts.”

The UAW’s change comes amid a growing union movement in the country that has involved strikes by organized workers, many of whom want to be compensated for working largely throughout the coronavirus pandemic in critical industries such as manufacturing and healthcare. They’re also are leveraging the support of President Joe Biden, who has loudly and continuously supported unions and workers organizing.

The first direct election is scheduled in 2022, a year ahead of pivotal contract negotiations with General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler).

Reuther Administrative Caucus

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