DETROIT — The UAW's cornerstone principle of solidarity among its membership is under growing pressure as a federal corruption investigation widens and more details emerge about the luxuries purchased with millions of dollars intended to train workers.
Three rank-and-file members sued the union in January, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars for what they claim was collusion with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Separately, former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, who oversaw 2015 contract negotiations, became implicated in the scandal.
The latest revelations come with Monica Morgan, the widow of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield, expected to plead guilty this week to reduced charges in Detroit federal court. That could allow authorities to move forward with actions against more players in the $4.5 million scheme.
Jewell, who abruptly retired at the end of last year, has not been formally named or charged with any crimes.
A plea deal released Jan. 22 between the U.S. Attorney's Office and former FCA US labor relations chief Alphons Iacobelli alludes to Jewell but does not name him directly. It also identifies a charity run by Jewell as one of several to receive restricted funds.
"It's bad. If you have that level of leadership being implicated, it's not welcomed news for the union and not good for other organizing efforts," said Art Wheaton, a labor expert with the Worker Institute at Cornell University. "All it takes is for a couple of people to get indicted and everybody gets painted with the same bad brush."
Prosecutors say the money was siphoned through the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center, which is funded by FCA and jointly operated with the union.
Iacobelli approved more than $30,000 of the funds, according to his plea deal, for a 2014 party — reportedly in Jewell's honor — that included "ultra-premium liquor," $7,000 in cigars and $3,000 worth of wine bottles with custom labels.
Federal officials conducted a search of Jewell's home late last year, a source familiar with the investigation told Automotive News.
Attempts to reach Jewell last week were unsuccessful. An individual who answered the Ohio phone number listed for Jewell's charity said he "can't help" with any questions.
A UAW spokesman declined to comment directly on the implications, and FCA officials did not respond.
The UAW announced in November that Jewell, 60, would retire and not seek re-election — an unusual, if not unprecedented, occurrence. UAW officers younger than the mandatory retirement age of 65 typically seek re-election and step down only at the end of a term, which would have been in June for Jewell.
Iacobelli, according to his plea deal, admits that he and other FCA executives and employees transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars "in prohibited payments" to charities controlled by UAW officials, including Jewell's Making Our Children Smile Foundation and Holiefield's Leave the Light On Foundation.
Prosecutors contend that FCA employees and executives, including Iacobelli, paid union workers through the charities and other methods, including training-center credit cards, to influence union business, including collective bargaining negotiations in 2011 and 2015.