Rory Gamble looks like the last man standing between the UAW and a federal takeover.
We don't envy his task: rebuilding members' trust in the union in the wake of widespread abuse — while trying to win ratification for new four-year contracts with Ford Motor Co. and FCA US.
The plans he laid out last week to begin cleaning up the union make for a compellingly broad strategy to change the culture and reputation of the union as well as to limit the opportunity for bad behavior. It includes hiring an independent ethics officer, appointing an ethics ombudsman, establishing an ethics hotline and banning internal fundraising for charities controlled by UAW officials.
Committing to selling former UAW President Dennis Williams' newly constructed $1.3 million cabin at the union's private Black Lake compound in Michigan is a righteous gesture, but likely a money loser. Right now, the cabin is a monument to graft and excess.
Missing from Gamble's plan: Direct election of UAW leaders, so members' options aren't limited by a nominating process that turns elections into rubber-stamp loyalty oaths.
In the court of public opinion, the UAW has benefited from a modest resurgence of unionism as an antidote to historic inequality in income and wealth in the U.S.
But that may not last. The atrocious greed and array of criminal endeavors by UAW leaders is shameful enough. That it came after the union was treated favorably in President Barack Obama's bailout led by Ron Bloom and Steven Rattner gives every taxpayer in America reason to feel robbed, too.
The breadth of the scandal — touching top leaders of the General Motors and FCA divisions and regional leaders, and implicating the past two presidents, though they haven't been charged yet — argues for federal oversight of the UAW, along the lines of the federal monitorship of the Teamsters union that is only now winding down. As does the fact that many of the indicted leaders were running their own independent grifts.
The UAW's case for avoiding receivership has to be that the corrupt leaders are cleaned out, that the excesses weren't systemic and that the union is better suited to fix its house than the feds are.
Gamble's plan is a good start, but it means nothing if there are snakes hiding amid the apples in the UAW's leadership basket.