DETROIT — Its president has stepped aside. One former vice president is headed to prison, and two of the three chief negotiators during 2011 contract talks are accused of taking sizable kickbacks. Five other ex-officials have pleaded guilty to corruption-related crimes.
After two years downplaying the scandal as isolated misdeeds, the UAW is acknowledging the possibility of a federal takeover attempt that would threaten the union's independence for the first time in its 84-year history. At the same time, it's still working to seal contracts with two of the Detroit 3 after putting General Motors through a 40-day strike.
Embroiled in a corruption scandal that last week prompted the departure of President Gary Jones and expanded to include conspiracy charges against retired Vice President Joe Ashton, the UAW now has turned to Rory Gamble, a widely respected union veteran who could represent its last, best chance at reform from within.
Gamble, who became acting president after Jones requested and was granted a paid leave of absence, admitted he faces a "daunting task" in simultaneously rooting out corruption, selling a tentative contract to skeptical Ford Motor Co. workers and eventually negotiating a deal with Fiat Chrysler. That's to say nothing of significant trade issues and a looming presidential election that would otherwise be top legislative and lobbying priorities.
"I don't think there's any doubt they're in crisis," Art Wheaton, a labor expert at Cornell University, told Automotive News. "But I think they're taking a lot of the right steps. As long as they do a rigorous housecleaning of any other potential issues and change some of their processes, I think it's fixable."
Gamble said he's planning a number of reforms and could outline them as early as this week. Without providing specifics, he promised to do more than what the union's previous two presidents did through their "clean-slate" agendas, which included stricter vendor procurement processes and a new legal counsel. Both predecessors have since been implicated in the scandal.