Three federal judges unanimously reinstated criminal charges Feb. 8 against two Pontiac officials of the United Auto Workers accused of prolonging an 87-day strike at a General Motors Corp. truck plant to force the hiring of a relative and a friend. The decision by a three-judge panel at the 6th U.S. Circ. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed an October 2003 ruling by U.S. Dist. Judge Nancy Edmunds, who had tossed out the charges against the officials — intl. servicing representative Donny Douglas and retired Local 594 Chairman Jay Campbell.
They were indicted in September 2002 on charges of extortion, mail fraud and conspiracy to violate U.S. labor laws. A third UAW official, William Coffey, was also charged, but he died in 2003. In her earlier ruling, Edmunds had, in essence, decided that what the UAW officials did was not criminal because all they were doing was negotiating for jobs — which all union officials do. Edmunds also said the union members in Pontiac didn’t lose anything of value when the two jobs went to one union official’s son and the other to a friend of a union official.
Govt. prosecutors disagreed, saying the officials had extorted GM and misled their 5,000 members into a prolonged strike to obtain the jobs for two people. UAW workers in Pontiac estimated the strike cost them each $10,000 to $20,000 in lost wages.
The government said the workers were owed “honest service,” and that they should be “faithfully and fairly” represented by the UAW officials that handle their bargaining and negotiations. Govt. prosecutors also said that UAW members had a right to apply for those coveted skilled-trades jobs themselves instead of them going to relatives and friends of Douglas and Campbell, whom the Govt. and UAW workers say were not qualified for them. Those jobs pay up to $100,000 a year. The two jobs in question went to Campbell‘s son, Gordon, and Todd Fante, son-in-law of a former UAW 594 official.
The judges’ panel said the union officials’ actions, as alleged by the government, “are illegitimate … and constitute extortion because they were in contradiction of the collective bargaining agreement and the union’s constitution.”
Lawyers for Douglas and Campbell said they were reviewing their options following the ruling. They can do one of four things: ask the three judges to reconsider their ruling, ask the entire 6th Circuit to re hear the case, appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court or accept the ruling and go to trial. Douglas and Campbell, now both in their early 60s, could face maximum penalties of 30 years in prison and fines totaling $750,000 if convicted on all counts.
A UAW worker in Pontiac who helped launch the federal government investigation, said he was “tickled to death” by the ruling to reinstate the charges. “At least, hopefully, we get our day in court. I just want to hear what happened behind closed doors between our union and GM,” said Dale Garrish, a UAW worker for 20 years. “A lot of people affiliated with those two guys are still here at the plant and trying to get back into power.”
Garrish and 140 other UAW workers are also suing GM and the UAW in civil cases, seeking millions for lost wages and damages from the strike, which ran from April 1997 through July 1997. Their case was dismissed in Sept. 2003, but an appeal is to be heard later this year.