New Federal Probe Info; At Least Six Locals Eyed

Recently, members from ten United Auto Workers locals, including Dale Garrish of Local 594 in Pontiac, Mich., have asked the federal agents to investigate their union. With time sheets, secret tape recordings and internal memos, they’ve persuaded the FBI and Dep’t of Labor to consider their complaints against six locals. The allegations involve collaboration between employers and UAW bosses. The whistle-blowers want investigators to determine whether the firms paid bosses unworked overtime or secured jobs for friends and relatives in exchange for cooperation.

Paul Krell, an assistant to UAW president Stephen Yokich told the Detroit Free Press: “We go to great lengths to protect our members. I think it’s rare they’d go outside of us.” Reportedly, the whistle-blowers are seen by some as traitors to a union; some say they’ve been threatened and shunned. They say they only turned to federal authorities as a last resort when UAW bosses wouldn’t respond.

In the past, “those gripes stayed in the family and the offenders got slapped hard by the international,” said Bob King, a union officer for 35 years, including six years as a int’l official, before retiring in 1996. But he isn’t sure that’s the case anymore. “Members are frustrated, disgruntled with their union and now they are dropping the dime on them….it’s not the UAW it was or should be.”

“Complaining to the international about your local does no good,” said Kevin Valin, a Local 400 member in Utica, Mich. “They’ll ignore you or worse, they’ll vilify you for pointing out what’s wrong with the union.”

Bob Bolton, a Local 685 member in Kokomo, Ind., said he “wrote to President Stephen Yokich to tell him that our local officials were being bought off….I sent him documents and a tape….What happened? An official from the international came down and threatened me in front of 300 people at our union meeting,” he said.

According to an unidentified official at DOL’s labor-racketeering division in Washington, D.C., DOL’s probes of various locals are not connected but suggested the probes are “some kind of proactive intelligence gathering” prompted by UAW members.

The FBI and DOL probe of Local 594 reportedly began in 1998. A grand jury has already been convened to hear evidence against Local 594 bosses. Allegedly, UAW bosses prolonged an 87-day strike in 1997 while they leaned on GM to get jobs for relatives and illegal overtime payments for themselves in exchange for settling the strike. Garrish and 150 members have also filed a class action suit that charges UAW and Local 594 with breaching their duty to represent workers.

Other locals under scrutiny include 1) Local 2195 in Athens, Ala., at which members claim friends and relatives of union and company officials were given artificial starting dates that gave them more seniority than employees hired at the same time. 2) At Local 685, FBI and DOL have looked into complaints that bosses were paid by the employer for hours not worked in return for ignoring safety complaints. More than 150 employees  signed a petition asking for a federal investigation of the local. 3) Several members of Local 2209 in Ft. Wayne, Ind., have complained to the FBI that their local officials were paid for hours they didn’t work. 4) DOL has interviewed an ex-boss of Local 51 in Center Line, Mich., to get documents alleging financial improprieties and nepotism. 5) At Local 549 in Mansfield, Ohio, DOL already took the local to court to overturn the election of its president. DOL won and oversaw a new election Mar. 14.

Members also asked for investigations of Local 1999 in Oklahoma City, Local 1618 in Lansing, Mich., and Local 400, but investigators have not pursued those requests. In Local 400, members are asking the government to reopen a 1997 investigation that ended in the indictment of four ex-bosses on charges of for embezzling $150,116. Members say they were never repaid.

Additionally, twice in the last year, members and others from across the country have visited Washington, D.C., trying to prod federal agents and their lawmakers to investigate UAW. “The UAW has become a company union. It’s as simple as that. They don’t represent the members. The Big Three has bought off the union, paying representatives or local officials 70 hours a week to ignore their members,” said Billy Robinson, a president of Local 2036 in Henderson, Ky. Robinson recently took his concerns to Washington. He and five others spent several hours on Feb. 23 meeting with Joseph Theis, deputy director of DOL’s Department’s labor-racketeering division. They gave Theis documents they say show a pattern of UAW corruption. Theis, who let the workers in to see him after they blocked a DOL parking structure for hours and refused to move, declined to discuss his meeting with Robinson and others.

Robinson has been crossing the country for more than a year talking to UAW dissidents or trying to push federal investigations of the union.  He was joined in Washington by Pat Meyer, founder of the watchdog group UAW Concern, based in Kalamazoo. Robinson, Meyer and their contingent also visited the staffs of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), both members of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. UAW Concern had earlier visited Levin’s office in Grand Rapids. [Detroit Free Press 5/17/01]