DETROIT — Acting UAW President Rory Gamble on Wednesday said he's confident the union's 12 remaining board members are innocent of any wrongdoing related to a widening federal corruption probe but "worried" about the possibility of a government takeover if prosecutors decide to charge the union with racketeering.
"Anytime you have something like this happen in any union, you could suffer that fate," Gamble, who took charge of the union from President Gary Jones on Sunday, said. "That's why I feel such tremendous disgust for those reps who have been found guilty of betraying their oaths of office. They've jeopardized our organization for their own selfish reasons."
Gamble said he was among the majority of board members who voted Saturday to accept Jones' request to take a paid leave of absence as president. Vance Pearson, a board member and director of Region 5 who was charged in September with conspiring to embezzle union money, has been on leave since early October.
"I am confident everybody on the board at this point in time, from what I've found out since Monday, is clean," Gamble told Automotive News. "I'm confident of that."
Jones has not been charged with a crime but has been reportedly implicated in the corruption probe, which widened Wednesday to include money-laundering and wire-fraud charges against Joe Ashton, a retired UAW vice president and former director of General Motors. The scandal has resulted in 13 charges and 10 guilty pleas so far.
The scandal has raised the possibility of racketeering charges against the UAW, similar to those filed against the Teamsters union in 1989 by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani. The union then went into receivership under the watch of federal officials for 26 years until federal authorities agreed to end the consent decree. Even now, the union remains under some oversight as part of a five-year "transition period."
"I'm confident with the plans and controls we're going to be putting into place, the different mindsets, we can fix this thing," Gamble said. "But the government's going to do what it's going to do."
Gamble, who led the UAW's negotiations with Ford that produced a tentative agreement last week, said he plans a number of reforms to weed out corruption. He said he intends to bring his ideas before the union's board Thursday and will release details as early as next week.
"It's going to be a long road to get back to where we should be with our members," he said. "I expect that and I understand it. We have to show them a continued process and making sure everybody's doing what they need to be doing to protect their interests and protect their dues money. I don't expect them to wave their hand and say, 'Those guys are OK.' I expect to go out and re-earn their trust. It should be like that."
Jones and his predecessor, Dennis Williams, implemented "clean-slate" reforms during their presidencies. Gamble said his ideas go further.
"We need to do more than what we've done in the past," he said. "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."
Gamble has been vice president of the UAW's Ford department since June 2018. Before that, he served three terms as director of UAW Region 1A. He was on the UAW-Ford national negotiating team in 1998 and 2003, according to the union.
In addition to abruptly assuming the president's duties, Gamble is working to secure ratification of the tentative agreement with Ford. Workers are voting on through Nov. 15.
"This is a very difficult task and a very difficult job," he said. "I'm very ready to take this task on."