DETROIT — New allegations of corruption last week against the UAW's leadership by federal investigators landed just days before the union's contracts with the Detroit 3 were set to expire, adding chaos to an already difficult set of negotiations.
The president of the union's Region 5, which covers Missouri and 16 other Western and Southwestern states, was arrested and charged with conspiring to embezzle UAW funds. U.S. Justice Department prosecutors said Vance Pearson and other UAW leaders misused hundreds of thousands of dollars on leisurely vacations in California, golf clubs, lavish meals, cigars and $440 bottles of champagne. UAW President Gary Jones and his predecessor, Dennis Williams, are among the officials implicated, sources told The Detroit News and Reuters, although they were not identified by name in the criminal complaint against Pearson, 58.
Jones was the head of Region 5 before Pearson. Investigators said Pearson and the other officials disguised their spending as being related to a Region 5 leadership conference held each January from 2015 through 2018, which matches the period when Jones was in charge of the region.
"It has become clear that there are individuals at the top level of the International union who have broken the sacred oath they took to serve our great membership," the leaders of UAW Local 249, which represents a Ford Motor Co. plant in Missouri, said in a statement posted Friday, Sept. 13, on Facebook. "The damage these corrupt officials have caused to our union's reputation is devastating."
The union, in a statement Thursday, Sept. 12, called the allegations "very concerning" but argued that the government had "misconstrued any number of facts." General Motors, which the UAW selected as the lead company in this year's contract negotiations, said in a statement the allegations amounted to "a stunning abuse of power and trust."
The UAW had hoped to put the long-running federal probe and convictions of several former officials behind it by electing Jones president in 2018 and enacting a "clean slate" agenda of reforms.
But in August, the FBI raided Jones' home in suburban Detroit, a Michigan union retreat and multiple other locations. A document filed with the charges against Pearson last week said agents took more than $30,000 in cash and a set of Titleist golf clubs from the home of a person identified as "UAW Official A."
That official is Jones, sources told The Detroit News, and the seized clubs matched some of those bought with UAW funds in 2016 and 2017 at a Jack Nicklaus-designed course in Missouri. Agents also found a similar set of clubs at Pearson's office.