DETROIT — The UAW's jointly operated training center with Ford would stay open under the tentative agreement reached Wednesday, sources told Automotive News, but it would be restructured to avoid the misuse of funds that occurred at the General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles training centers.
Whereas the GM contract ratified last week calls for the closure and sale of the UAW-GM training center, there are no plans to shut the Ford-UAW building in downtown Detroit, called the National Programs Center, according to two people familiar with the proposed contract.
No current or former Ford officials or union officials associated with the UAW-Ford department have been implicated or accused of wrongdoing in the ongoing federal corruption scandal, which resulted in more charges Thursday.
Edward Robinson, former top aide to UAW President Gary Jones and head of a UAW regional community action program council, was charged with conspiracy to embezzle union funds and conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
According to the complaint, Robinson and six others, including UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, embezzled more than $1.5 million and filed false expense reports to conceal their wrongdoing. Prosecutors allege that Robinson "made significant purchases of high-end liquor, cigars, wine, golf apparel, golf clubs and other lavish expenses at the direction of and for senior UAW officials."
The charges were first reported by The Detroit News.
Robinson worked closely with the unidentified "UAW Official A," which The News has reported is Jones. Jones has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
The latest complaint includes a number of potentially incriminating details about UAW Official A.
According to the complaint, Official A told Robinson “in or about” late 2017 they needed to “halt the cash embezzlement portion of the conspiracy because of the ongoing federal criminal investigation of the United Auto Workers union and because of a new UAW position being taken by UAW Official A.”
Jones was named the union’s president in June 2018.
Official A also promised to “take care of” one of Robinson’s relatives with a “sham job” if Robinson agreed to take sole responsibility for a portion of the embezzlement, according to the complaint. It also said Official A told Robinson in May 2019 he wished they “burned the records” related to the embezzlement scheme.
The UAW’s Solidarity House headquarters has been shuttered since July due to a fire in the union's information technology department that also damaged adjacent public relations office space. Arson has been ruled out as a cause of the fire.
Pearson later told Robinson he’d get him a “burner phone” to avoid a federal wiretap, and that he should “get rid of” any incriminating evidence.
The complaint also notes that UAW Official A was in possession of more than $32,000 in cash at his personal residence on August 28. Jones’ home was raided that day, along with the homes of other UAW officials, and media reports that day quoted witnesses saying investigators counting cash.
In a statement, the UAW said, "We take any allegation or claim about the misuse of union resources very seriously. The UAW is grounded in the principle of putting our members first, and that belief has never wavered. The UAW remains focused on negotiating and finalizing strong contracts for our members--especially during this round of auto negotiations."
Robinson is the 12th person charged in the ongoing corruption probe. So far 10 people, including six former union officials, have pleaded guilty.
GM, FCA centers
One of the former UAW officials who have pleaded guilty, Jeffery Pietrzyk, was co-director of the UAW-GM training center, known as the Center for Human Resources.
In one example given by prosecutors, Pietrzyk was involved in placing a $4 million order for 58,000 custom-made watches in 2013 that were never handed out. The UAW officials behind the order pocketed almost $350,000 in kickbacks, prosecutors said.
The UAW's new contract with GM says the automaker and the union must discontinue the joint purchase, sale or distribution of promotional products and novelty items. Going forward, all expenses associated with UAW-GM joint activities would be paid by GM, and GM would have exclusive responsibility for administering, implementing and managing all funds, payments, expenditures and programs related to joint activities.
An independent audit of the center's assets, spending and activities would also be conducted, according to the GM deal. The nonprofit entity behind the center would be dissolved.
FCA's training center also has played a central role in the scandal. Its future is unclear because negotiations between FCA and the UAW have not concluded.
Former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, who admitted to using funds from the FCA center on travel, steak dinners and other luxuries, was sentenced in August to 15 months in prison.