Sometimes the unfinished business of a strike can take years to resolve. In the case of Donny Douglas and Jay Campbell, it was close to 15 years. Douglas and Campbell, each a former officer with United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 594 in Pontiac, Mich., were sentenced in Detroit federal court on December 19 for conspiracy to commit extortion and violate the Taft-Hartley Act. The pair had used their bargaining leverage to extend a strike in 1997 against General Motors by telling GM negotiators if they didn’t hire Campbell’s son and the son of another UAW official for high-paying jobs, the strike would continue. Douglas received 18 months in prison, while Campbell received 12 months and a day in prison. They had been convicted at trial in 2006. A circuit court later would uphold the convictions and declare the original sentences too lenient. The Department of the Labor and the FBI investigated the case.
Back in April 1997, union workers at the General Motors truck plant and truck validation center in Pontiac, Mich. went on strike following a bargaining impasse over appropriate staffing levels. The walkout would last 87 days, the longest at GM since 1970. It cost nearly 6,000 workers about $10,000 to $20,000 each in lost wages and benefits. And the company lost extensive potential sales of pickup trucks. One likely reason for the strike’s duration was that three officials of UAW Local 594 – Donny Douglas, Jay Campbell and William Coffey – willfully delayed settling it. Douglas, Campbell and Coffey, respectively, a union service representative, retired union chairman, and retired bargaining committeeman, apparently told GM management that unless it hired Campbell’s son, Gordon, and Todd Fante, son-in-law of former Local 594 official Clarence Powell, for high-skilled (and high-paying) positions for which they clearly were not qualified, the strike would continue. GM eventually hired the pair, though not until the strike was prolonged by two months.
Several workers at the truck plant got wind of this arrangement and alerted the government. The first of these workers to act, Dale Garrish, was the lead plaintiff in a class-action civil suit filed in August 2000 by him and some 140 other UAW members against the union, its Local 594 affiliate and General Motors. The union members sought $550 million in damages and lost wages. A federal district court dismissed the case in September 2003. The plaintiffs appealed, but lost. The U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, in upholding the lower court in 2005, concluded the allegations were untimely and failed to state a cause for action. In a separate action, a number of qualified employees filed grievances against GM management for not following the hiring process set forth in existing collective bargaining agreements. That case was resolved when the company hired two qualified applicants in addition to Gordon Campbell and Todd Fante.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against Douglas, Campbell and Coffey following grand jury indictments in September 2002 on charges of extortion, mail fraud and conspiracy. Coffey would die of natural causes the following year. But the case would stall in another way. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, put simply, didn’t see a convincing case. In dismissing all criminal charges in 2003, she ruled that the defendants had been negotiating for jobs, something all union leaders do. The government appealed, and to good effect. In February 2005 a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed her decision and remanded the case back to a lower court.
It was now round two. And in June 2006, Douglas and Campbell were convicted by a jury of extortion and Taft-Hartley violations. The defendants faced up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $750,000. But Judge Edmunds, an appointee of George H.W. Bush, declared at sentencing in May 2007 that the case didn’t merit such punishments. She sentenced each defendant to six months of house arrest and two years of probation. This time, it was Douglas and Campbell, rather than the government, who appealed. The pair maintained that violating a labor agreement is not a criminal offense and that the prosecution had presented insufficient evidence for wrongdoing. It proved an unwise gamble. The circuit court not only upheld the convictions, but said that the original sentence had been too light. It remanded the case back to Judge Edmunds’ court for sentencing. That set the stage for the sentences handed down this past December. Donny Douglas, now 70, a resident of Holly, Mich., and Jay Campbell, also 70, a resident of Davisburg, Mich., might look back fondly at their days as UAW officials, but it’s not likely many of their union brothers will.