The raids came less than three weeks before contracts between the union and automakers are set to expire. They happened shortly after prosecutors filed charges against Michael Grimes, a former UAW official in the union's General Motors department. Grimes was the ninth person charged in the scandal but the first UAW official outside the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles department.
Contract negotiations traditionally ramp up after Labor Day, and union leaders are expected to announce, as early as this week, which of the three automakers they will look to reach a deal with first before turning to the others. As more details trickle out about kickbacks allegedly paid and training money misused, and with the current president reportedly now under investigation, trust among the rank and file could erode.
"Even if the relationships between the car companies and the union have not been damaged by this, there's a big question on the membership's mind," Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., told Automotive News. "An investigation doesn't mean anyone's guilty of anything, but they have to be questioning whether their leadership is corrupt and if they're working for them."
A group of about 15 UAW members protested the union's leadership at Monday's Labor Day Parade in Detroit, which was attended by thousands of auto workers and other union organizations. Brian Keller, who has sued the union over the corruption scandal, announced the protest march on Facebook late last week.
“Real leadership wouldn’t have bitten the hook and gotten weak, just to be fat, dumb and happy off the backs of the members,” Keller told Automotive News. “We’re not protesting labor, because we are labor. We’re protesting the corruption, the collusion, the nepotism, the concessions and the job losses.”
Jones marched in the parade, although he declined comment when asked by Automotive News about last week’s raid on his home. Keller and other protestors marched alongside Jones for less than a mile before Jones and other leaders left the parade about halfway through the route. A union spokesman said Jones left to attend other events.
UAW-Ford Vice President Rory Gamble, who was in attendance at the parade, declined to comment directly on the corruption probe as he reached the end of the route, although he told Automotive News that members should still trust their leadership.
“Do you know how many union reps there are across the country? Thousands,” he said. “We’ve got a few bad apples but not unlike any other organization. We’ll get through it.”
Jones or other union leaders did not deliver remarks Monday, as past presidents have done during contract years, because new rules prohibited them from using the UAW-Ford joint training center, a site near the end of the parade route that was used for speeches in 2015, according to a spokesman.
The union’s Solidary House headquarters also was not an option as it is still shuttered from a fire earlier this summer, and is not near the parade route.
It's unclear which automaker the union will target, although labor experts agree it will either be Ford Motor Co. or GM, in part because of the cloud that the scandal has put over the union's relationship with FCA.
No one from the union's Ford department has yet been swept up in the corruption scandal. The automaker and the UAW-Ford department also have experienced negotiators and a history of a cordial working relationship.
Gamble said he hoped Ford went first, although noted that it was up to Jones to decide.
“We’re ready to go,” he said. “But that’s up to our president and I respect and trust his decision.”
The union could choose GM, though, in order to deal with some of the toughest issues first. GM has drawn the UAW's ire for its decision to stop production at a number of U.S. plants.
Talks are expected to be more contentious than they were in 2015 when FCA was the target company and workers rejected the first tentative offer that UAW leaders presented to them for ratification.
Workers ultimately approved a revised deal with FCA before approving a deal with GM and narrowly ratifying a Ford contract. The process dragged on until a few days before Thanksgiving.
"That rejection at FCA showed membership that if you throw back the first fish, you'll get back a bigger fish," Dziczek said. "It made 2019 that much harder."