These must be gut-wrenching times for the men and women who pay dues each month to the UAW. No one wants to believe that their interests may have been sold out for personal gain.
Yet there are formal allegations of corruption surrounding some top leaders of the UAW and indications that federal investigators are continuing to probe the labor organization.
The evidence that hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid to now-deceased UAW Vice President General Holiefield and his wife by disgraced Fiat Chrysler executive Al Iacobelli is a hard pill to swallow.
UAW President Dennis Williams maintains these actions and those of others under indictment were isolated and did not impact negotiations between the UAW and FCA, nor did they have a bearing on contract enforcement. He may have trouble proving that to his members, but what he can do is use these appalling circumstances to bring about long overdue changes.
He needs to open a dialogue with members and take steps to reform what has become a moribund institution — an institution that nonetheless continues to play an important role in this industry.
For starters, the UAW needs to change the way its leaders are selected. It continues to choose top officers not by a direct vote of members, but through an "administrative caucus" — a group made up largely of existing union officers. That might guarantee continuity from one leader to the next, but is also insular and resistant to change. There is no reason for any labor organization not to stand behind the notion of "one member, one vote."
Williams should also work to improve the way the union communicates — not only with its members, but with the outside world.
Over the decades, the UAW's image has suffered greatly because it declined to respond to questions where its views would have been relevant. Rather, it met any request with a standard "no comment."
It's hard not to see the UAW's recent organizing losses at Volkswagen and Nissan plants in the South at least partly a result of this mindset.
There are tough days ahead for the UAW. Williams should view them as an opportunity for profound change.