Strik­ing work­ers ques­tion if UAW lead­ers can be trusted

The Morning Call - - BUSINESS CYCLE - By Tom Kr­isher and Mike House­holder

ROMULUS, Mich. — The strike against Gen­eral Mo­tors Co. by the United Auto Work­ers is play­ing out amid a cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­side the UAW that has caused distrust of the union lead­er­ship among many rankand-file mem­bers.

On picket lines at plants across the coun­try, many of the 49,000 work­ers have ex­pressed doubts about whether UAW lead­ers are act­ing in their best in­ter­ests in the dis­pute and in their han­dling of union money in gen­eral. Some have gone so far as to won­der whether the lead­er­ship took them out on strike to show that the union is work­ing for them.

“Where there’s big money, there’s dis­hon­esty, un­for­tu­nately,” 41-year em­ployee Brian Jaeger said out­side a parts dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter in Van Buren Town­ship, Michi­gan. He said he is grate­ful for the life that the union has brought his fam­ily, and he sup­ports the strike, but he is also sus­pi­cious of the lead­er­ship.

The walk­out be­gan Mon­day, with UAW mem­bers say­ing they want a big­ger share of the bil­lions that the No. 1 U.S. au­tomaker has made off their hard work since it emerged from bank­ruptcy a decade ago with the help of union con­ces­sions. The strike — au­tho­rized Sun­day in a vote by about 200 lo­cal union rep­re­sen­ta­tives — has shut down more than 30 fac­to­ries in nine states, mostly in the Mid­west.

In Au­gust, the FBI raided the sub­ur­ban Detroit home of UAW Pres­i­dent Gary Jones as part of the widen­ing fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He has not been charged and has not com­mented on the raid. Ear­lier this month, Jones’ suc­ces­sor as union re­gional di­rec­tor in Mis­souri was charged in a $600,000 em­bez­zle­ment scheme, and an­other UAW of­fi­cial pleaded guilty to tak­ing kick­backs from union ven­dors.

Eight other peo­ple — in­clud­ing five UAW of­fi­cials — have been con­victed over the past two years of loot­ing a jointly run Fiat Chrysler-UAW train­ing cen­ter for blue-col­lar work­ers, with prose­cu­tors al­leg­ing that $1.2 mil­lion was di­verted to keep union of­fi­cials “fat, dumb and happy” while they col­lab­o­rated with the au­tomaker in con­tract talks.

Amid all this, the UAW is try­ing to reach a new four-year agree­ment with GM.

“That’s sick­en­ing,” Clarence Trin­ity, 47, a UAW ma­chin­ist, said of the scan­dal. “If it’s true, that’s up­set­ting be­cause they raised our union dues. But it seems like they raised our union dues maybe just to line their pock­ets.”

Trin­ity, who works at a GM en­gine and trans­mis­sion plant in the Detroit sub­urb of Romulus, said he re­mains loyal to the union and will picket for more hours than sched­uled to sup­port fel­low work­ers. He said he wants to pre­serve their health care, get per­ma­nent jobs for tem­po­rary work­ers and stop the com­pany from mov­ing pro­duc­tion to other coun­tries.

Still, the 22-year GM em­ployee and oth­ers ques­tioned the union’s ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tics and its mo­tives in call­ing the walk­out. Phil Cuth­bert­son, who works at GM’s trans­mis­sion plant in Toledo, Ohio, said he won­ders whether the lead­er­ship was quick to strike this time be­cause it wanted to re­store mem­bers’ faith that it is work­ing for them.

“We voted to strike and they lis­tened to us,” he said.

GM has not pub­licly tried to cap­i­tal­ize on the scan­dal dur­ing the strike, but when the lat­est al­le­ga­tions were an­nounced last week, it pounced, say­ing: “There is no ex­cuse for union of­fi­cials to en­rich them­selves at the ex­pense of the union mem­ber­ship they rep­re­sent.”

Many work­ers on the picket line said they still sup­port the union in its quest to pre­serve their stan­dard of liv­ing.

Romulus worker Tina Black said there are still good peo­ple at the top of the union, even if some lead­ers have got­ten in trou­ble. “There’s al­ways a few, but you can’t blame every­body for that,” she said.

JAKE MAY/AP

United Auto Work­ers mem­bers and sup­port­ers protest out­side the Flint Assem­bly plant Mon­day.

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