Next week, UAW President Rory Gamble and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider plan to meet over much-needed reforms of the labor union in the wake of an all-encompassing corruption probe which has, to date, led to guilty pleas in federal court from 14 individuals — including the UAW's immediate past president — involved in an array of schemes.
The June 30 sit-down in Detroit is labeled by both parties as a discussion. But it is a negotiation — part of a process in which a once proud and powerful labor organization must finally prostrate itself before both the law and its aggrieved members, accept responsibility for the culture that allowed wrongs to be done in its name and chart a new path forward that can finally expunge the stench of past sins.
Pride and penitence rarely coexist, and while Gamble and other remaining UAW leaders may be tempted to treat this negotiation as they might any other bargaining table, the failings of leaders who betrayed the union for personal gain have stripped the UAW of any bargaining power it may once have had to avoid a federal takeover. That there will be any bargaining at all is a testament to the good faith and strong leadership Gamble has exercised in trying to right the union since he took over last year for ex-President — and now convicted felon — Gary Jones.
Schneider and the Justice Department are unlikely to be placated by halfhearted measures and surface-level changes to UAW operations, nor should they be. The federal government is right to demand fundamental change, including the direct election of union officers, and has at its disposal the significant threat of a forced federal takeover, from which the union might take decades to recover.
Gamble and Schneider would be wise to cooperate on a broad package of fundamental reforms, and both express a desire to do so. As this space has argued previously, the best strategy for the UAW may be to voluntarily invite in the federal government to aid Gamble's overhaul efforts and rid the UAW of whatever corrupt practices or officials remain.
Such an arrangement, especially with the Trump administration, might seem anathema to a progressive union such as the UAW, heading into the 2020 general election in which the Upper Midwest is again likely to play a key role. But for the good of the union and its members, political calculations must take a back seat to its own survival.