DETROIT — Acting UAW President Rory Gamble on Wednesday announced a series of sweeping ethics reforms less than two weeks after taking over for President Gary Jones, who took a paid leave of absence after reportedly being implicated in an ongoing corruption investigation into the union.
The measures directly address a number of areas that federal prosecutors have focused on: the alleged illicit spending of jointly-run training center funds; kickbacks related to so-called “trinkets and trash” purchases and the building of an elaborate cabin for a former president. They represent what’s likely the union’s last effort at reform from within as it attempt to avoid a government takeover should investigators file racketeering charges.
So far, 13 people have been charged and 10 have pleaded guilty in the years-long probe.
“When the United Auto Workers union was created more than 84 years ago, it was built on the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; that together we are stronger than any one person alone. And this is still true today,” said Gamble. “As the acting president, I’m committed to putting in place the right mechanisms to safeguard our union, regaining the trust of our members, and ensuring the misconduct that has recently come to light will never happen again. That is why I am ordering immediate actions that will lay the foundation for a more transparent, more accountable, and more responsible future for our union."
Gamble said the union would begin an immediate national search for an ethics officer, an external position that will hold the power to investigate allegations or complaints. The union will also add an ethics ombudsman to receive, review and respond to ethics complaints, and refer them to the outside ethics officer.
The union will implement stringent monetary controls, including the banning of all charitable contributions from UAW joint program centers, vendors or employers to any charities run or controlled by UAW officials.
The training centers have been at the center of a number of charges. Prosecutors allege former UAW officials misspent funds earmarked for those centers on cigars, champagne and other lavish goods.
General Motors and the UAW agreed last month in its new four-year labor pact to sell its training center building and restructure its activities. Ford Motor Co. will also restructure its training center activities, according to its tentative agreement with the UAW, but will not sell its building. Voting on the tentative agreement concludes this week.
Gamble on Wednesday said the union will also discontinue the purchase of promotional items using joint program funds, so-called “trinkets and trash” that prosecutors have been investigating to see if officials have received kickbacks related to their purchase.
He also said the UAW would implement a new policy “that will enhance enforcement against those who have been found guilty of misusing funds and our commitment to seek recovery of all misused or misappropriated funds.”
The union will also sell “Cabin Four” and land around the building. The site was built for former President Dennis Williams for a reported $1.3 million. The Detroit News reported the UAW used non-union labor to build the site, which included granite counters, a wood-burning fireplace and a wine cooler, among other amenities.
Williams also has been reportedly implicated in the probe, although he has not yet been charged with a crime. Federal agents raided the homes of Williams, Jones and other union officials last August.
On its surface, the reforms appear to go further than the so-called “clean slate agenda” implemented by Jones and his predecessor, Williams.
Those reforms included the hiring of a full-time controller and stricter vendor-approval processes.
"We need to do more than what we've done in the past," he said last week. "We need to do more bringing the integrity back to this union and regaining our members' trust. This organization is too important for too many people to fail. I do not intend to see that happen in my lifetime."