Grand Jury Still Probing Michigan Local

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed United Auto Workers Local 594 in Pontiac, Mich., seeking the minutes or audio records from membership meetings held in Sept. 1997, months after the local ended a contentious 87-day strike at a Gen. Motors Corp. plant. The strike has been under investigation for years by federal officials, who suspect that bogus overtime for union bosses and jobs for their relatives and friends were illegally used to settle the strike.

At the 1997 meetings in question, angry workers reportedly confronted their union bosses about the strike and allegations of improper inducements to settle it. The grand jury was convened and began looking into the strike and related issues at Local 594 as early as Jan. 2001. The subpoena requested that Local 594’s custodian of records testify before the grand jury May 8. The Dep’t of Labor and the FBI have also investigated whether Local 594 president Larry Trandell made a deal with GM to delay a $35,000 overtime payment to him until after his May 1999 election, when he defeated Gene Austin.

In Aug. 2000, some 130 members filed a civil suit over the strike seeking $550 million in damages from Local 594 plus UAW and GM. The suit echoes the criminal allegations. The civil suit is scheduled to go to trial in Nov. 2002 before U.S. Dist. Judge Paul V. Gadola (E.D. Mich., Reagan). It is currently in discovery and the members’ attorney, Harold Dunne,  said he has received 44 boxes, some 100,000 pages, of GM documents, plus one box from UAW.

Trandell dismissed the the subpoena news as political. The local’s officer elections are on May 14. Austin disputed that the subpoena or the grand-jury investigation were political. “He gives us far too much credit to think we could manipulate a U.S. grand jury. They wouldn’t have spent so much time looking at this if there wasn’t something there,” said Austin, who is running for Local 594 shop chairman. He is also part of the civil suit. [Detroit Free Press 5/4/02]