DETROIT — As recently as the middle of this year, UAW President Rory Gamble assumed that the 85-year-old union would soon be stripped of its power and independence by the federal government.
A 3-year-old corruption investigation was continuing to uncover crimes at the labor organization's highest level, including by Gamble's two most recent predecessors, and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider publicly criticized the UAW's lack of "active cooperation." Schneider made clear that one option available to him involved placing the union under federal receivership through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
"It was very dim," Gamble told Automotive News last week. "I knew I needed to sit down with the prosecutor, but I also knew I couldn't go into that meeting empty-handed. The only way we were going to be able to salvage this thing is if we took some severe actions and got some value-added, serious reforms in place. We needed to show we could self-govern."
The UAW's fortunes appeared to turn after Gamble and Schneider met June 30, and their periodic dialogue from that point on culminated in last week's consent decree that spares the union from a government takeover in favor of an independent monitor and the chance for members to get a direct say in choosing leaders.
"When I had the opportunity to sit down with him and had a very long, open discussion, I made sure everything was transparent on our side and I believe he saw that," said Gamble, who became president in late 2019 after Gary Jones resigned. "The talks kicked off from that point in a more positive direction."
The deal essentially ends a probe that netted guilty pleas from 15 people — including Jones and 10 other former UAW officials — and ultimately will cost the union millions to resolve tax issues and reform worker training practices that became the basis of a culture of corruption.
Schneider, who declined to comment beyond a joint news conference with Gamble last week, previously indicated that he hoped to wrap up negotiations by the end of the year, as he's likely to be replaced by the incoming Biden administration. After initially questioning some of the union's recent moves, Schneider praised Gamble for showing "poise and leadership" in rooting out corruption and bringing "genuine reform to the union."
Potential voting changes
One potential reform would let rank-and-file members democratically elect the UAW's president and the vice presidents who lead contract negotiations with the Detroit 3 for the first time in roughly 70 years.