The following editorial appeared in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.
The acting president of the 400,000-member United Auto Workers has announced a range of reforms to address the union’s yearslong corruption scandal. Without more teeth and without cultural changes at the top of the union, they are just window dressing.
The plan installs an ombudsman who would receive and review ethics complaints, establishes an outside ethics officer who could investigate allegations referred to him by the ombudsman or by the union’s executive board, launches an ethics hotline for union members to anonymously submit complaints, implements more independent audits of programs, and creates a policy to “enhance enforcement against those who have been found guilty of misusing funds” and to seek recovery of those funds.
A probe by the U.S. Justice Department, begun more than three years ago, has indicted 13 people, mostly union officials. There have been 10 convictions; three cases are pending. In all cases, the charges related to misspent union or automaker-union training funds for self-enrichment, from hosting luxurious parties and buying expensive gifts to receiving kickbacks to pay for mortgages and other nonunion purposes.
Bolder steps are needed.
The reform package doesn’t ban, as it should, further union training trips to an upscale Palm Springs, California, resort, the place at which the indictments say tens of thousands of dollars of training money was used to buy expensive liquor, rounds of golf and other extravagances. It doesn’t provide, as it should, any authority the ethics officer would have to act on the outcome of his investigations, such as the ability to fire a union official.
And it doesn’t address, as it should, the entitlement and corrupt culture among top UAW leaders. It needs to require removal or resignation of other union officials – most of the top UAW leaders either were aware of or should have been aware of the corruption problems.
One dramatic move would be to find a competent official with another labor union to temporarily run the UAW, a strategy that could forestall a possible federal government takeover of the union, which some members think may happen. This person wouldn’t be tied to the bad UAW culture and could make honest decisions on allowed expenses and ethics requirements.
Two other actions that could shore up support from the rank and file:
• Change the election process of top union leaders to be done by a membership vote instead of by votes of only delegates of local-level union officials, a change required by the federal government when it took over the Teamsters decades ago.
• Reduce the union dues to eliminate the extra half-hour per month of payments imposed a few years ago to enlarge the UAW’s defense fund, which likely now is being used to defend the growing number of union officials being charged with corruption.
These out-of-the-box ideas might be tough for UAW leaders to swallow but are changes that would help restore the integrity of the union and help win back the trust of the membership.