UAW terminates officials with ties to training center scandal
DETROIT -- The UAW has terminated several union officials for their ties to the alleged misuse of millions of dollars in training funds.
UAW President Dennis Williams said Wednesday the union "let go" of the unnamed individuals. Others involved are believed to have retired from the union.
Four people -- split between FCA US and the UAW -- have been charged in the case, while several others have been charged but not identified as part of plea deals or an initial federal indictment made public in July.
"We will never tolerate this type of misconduct," Williams said during a briefing with journalists about the state of the union at the UAW's Solidarity House headquarters. "Based on the information we have, we believe several former UAW officials acted in a clear violation of UAW policy. This is not acceptable and the actions of a few individuals should not be held against the entire union and its membership."
Williams said federal officials have not interviewed him regarding their probe.
The union, he said, continues to cooperate with federal officials handling the investigation. Federal officials say $4.5 million in training center funds was siphoned to union and company officials through the use of credit cards, charities and other means.
Williams declined to comment further because of the ongoing federal probe and an internal UAW investigation.
The federal investigation initially focused on funds at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' UAW-Chrysler National Training Center, a site operated jointly by the union and FCA, and has since expanded to other operations.
General Motors and Ford Motor Co. said in November they were cooperating with federal investigators who have subpoenaed information about jointly operated training centers with the UAW, which are funded by the automakers and overseen by joint committees.
Federal officials also have identified at least one charity connected to union and FCA officials that was allegedly being used to siphon money out of the FCA training center.
Federal officials are examining personal charities run by other high-ranking UAW officials.
Williams, who has a nonprofit called the Williams Charity Fund, said personal charities have been a “practice of the UAW for a long, long time.”
“It’s unfortunate what happened, happened,” he said. “But it did. We’ll make the corrections as we go.”
Williams said his charity, which focuses on helping children and homeless people, ceased taking donations this year. He cited his planned retirement next summer for the end of the charity's fundraising efforts.
The union, Williams said, has not discussed transferring the personal charities to a larger, union-run foundation similar to how some automakers run charitable giving.
“We’re focused on what’s going on in the UAW,” he said. “We’re focused on the investigation and things like that. We haven’t went that far yet but I think it’s a worthwhile discussion.”
Aside from the union president, it’s not uncommon for UAW vice presidents and even regional directors to establish their own charities.
Williams’ expected successor, Gary Jones, established a charity called the 5 Game Changers Charity Fund; however, the fund has not disclosed assets or revenue.
Jones, a UAW regional director and certified public accountant, was selected by union officials as an unconventional, if not unprecedented, candidate to succeed Williams. The union's top post has historically been filled by a vice president or secretary-treasurer.
Jones was chosen, Williams said, based on his “strong background” with the union, including his accounting experience.
“We feel very confident that Gary will do a fantastic job,” he said. “Gary’s a good candidate. It was a thoughtful process.”
Williams said UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell's decision not to seek re-election was voluntary.
“I concur with his decision, and I wish him well,” he said.
Jewell, 60, has not been publicly named or charged in the federal investigation, but The Detroit News in August reported he received a $2,180 shotgun bought with union training center funds as a birthday present.
The UAW has said Jewell paid for the gun after finding out it was bought with the training funds.
Williams said he does not expect much, if any, additional backlash from rank-and-file members regarding the current state of the union during the union's Constitutional Convention in June, when Jones and a slate of new leaders will stand for election.
"I feel very comfortable that our standing with the membership is the same," he said.
Overall, Williams said, the UAW remains "in good shape" -- from increasing membership to record profit-sharing checks for members and successful collective bargaining with the Detroit automakers.
“The UAW has weathered many storms over the years -- been through bad economic times, long strikes, relentless and vicious organizing drives -- we have also at times withstood investigations that have tested our goodwill," he said.
Williams declined to comment directly on recent sexual harassment claims by female workers at Ford Motor Co. plants in Chicago, citing an ongoing investigation that was detailed this week by The New York Times.
He said the union has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to such behavior.
“Working men and women have to understand that people ought to be able to go to the workplace without being harassed for any reason whatsoever,” he said.
In August the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached a $10 million settlement with Ford for sexual and racial harassment at the two Chicago plants. A lawsuit is still making its way through the courts.
Williams said “several departments” of the union are in the process of launching training to educate and combat sexual harassment in the workplace.
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