FBI raids UAW president as workers authorize strikes against Detroit 3
Assembly line worker Carrie Atwood moves a seat into position for a Chevrolet Volt at the General Motors Hamtramck Assembly plant in Hamtramck, Mich. | Paul Sancya / AP

DETROIT (PAI)—FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents’ raids on the home of United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, the union’s conference center in outstate Michigan and offices of the foundation Jones previously set up in Kansas City could throw a wrench into union bargaining with the Detroit 3 automakers.

That’s because raids by agents armed with search warrants call into question whether the union’s top officials will be able to concentrate on the talks even as the federal government pursues union leaders’ scalps – and whether members can trust the UAW’s top people.

The feds raided Jones, the foundation and UAW’s Black Rock Conference Center on the morning of August 28. That was also the last day of voting among UAW members nationwide who toil for Ford, GM and FiatChrysler on giving their leaders strike authorization.

First reports, from four locals in Michigan and two in Louisville, Ky., showed overwhelming support for the strike authorization. The lowest pro-strike figure was 91% approval.

Current contracts between UAW, which represents tens of thousands of workers at the three car and truck companies, expire September 14. Strike authorization does not mean the workers will walk, but it gives leaders leverage in bargaining with company bosses.

Jones vowed the bargaining would continue and that it would be the union leaders’ focus. And UAW called the raids unnecessary since it has always cooperated with the FBI’s ongoing 4-year investigation.

The probe has produced nine indictments already of both car company officials, notably at FiatChrysler, who bribed some UAW officers, and the officers, plus the wife of one deceased officer. The FBI said she was in on the bribery scheme. The FBI said it’s extended the corporate side of the probes to GM.

Five of those indicted, from the union and the companies, already pleaded guilty to various forms of corruption charges.

“As the leader of the UAW, President Jones is determined to uncover and address any and all wrongdoing, wherever it might lead,” UAW stated. “There was absolutely no need for search warrants to be used by the government today.”

“The UAW has voluntarily responded to every request the government has made throughout the course of its investigation, produced literally hundreds of thousands of documents and other materials to the government, and most importantly, when wrongdoing has been discovered, we have taken strong action to address it. The UAW will continue to cooperate with the government in its investigation, as we have been doing throughout.”

The union added, “media leaks, false assumptions and political grandstanding” are designed to undermine UAW members’ trust in Jones and other leaders during the contract talks. But the “sole focus of President Jones and his team will be winning at the bargaining table for our members.”

Still, pro-worker University of California labor relations professor, Harley Shaiken, plus an analyst at an auto-firm-sponsored think tank in nearby Ann Arbor, Mich., said the raids could throw another hitch into the bargaining.

“Call me cynical but I feel the Trump administration willfully timed this to coincide with our negotiations so that the union would lose faith in the leadership,” GM Flint Assembly worker Sean Crawford told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re getting ready to go into one of the biggest negotiations of our lifetime and we’re possibly going to lose faith in our union.”

Jones himself warned at last year’s UAW convention, which elected him to the top job in part because his accounting background represented a break with prior leadership, that the talks would be tough. In response, convention delegates also approved a leadership proposal to increase the union’s strike benefit payouts.

With the Detroit 3 automakers now reporting record profits, key issues in the talks include UAW members’ demands to recoup much of the money they sacrificed during the Great Recession to help keep the companies alive. GM and Chrysler went bankrupt due to the Wall Street-caused crash.

The rescue package negotiated between the firms, the UAW and the Democratic Obama administration included a two-tier wage system, other cuts and sale of GM’s health care plan to UAW in return for GM stock and cash to invest in it. The cuts also applied to Ford workers, even though Ford didn’t go broke.

FBI investigators leave the home of UAW President Gary Jones during a search on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 in Canton, Mich., as part of a corruption investigation. | Max Ortiz / Detroit News via AP

Ford wants to push more health care costs onto the workers, who are resisting. The workers also want to trim the eight-year “grow-in” period for a second-tier worker – who is nevertheless full-time – to reach top of scale. And the UAW wants to cut the numbers of temps the Detroit 3 employ. There are 12,500 at the two Ford plants, one each for cars and trucks, in Louisville alone, and that’s not counting the temps.

Also sticking in workers’ craws is the fact that the Detroit 3, even after recovering financially, continued – in the name of savings and profits – to shift production from the U.S. to Mexico. Jones pointedly told auto execs at the opening of the talks that those shifts must end.

“A ‘yes’ vote on the strike authorization vote does not necessarily mean we will go on strike. Voting yes will show General Motors that we are serious and that we support your UAW negotiating team,” Local 652 President Randy Freeman urged before the August 26 vote at the local hall in Lansing, Mich.

“The security of your job, your benefits, and your family’s welfare are at stake. General Motors pays attention when your union is strong and united.” Local 652 reported 98.2% of its members approved the strike authorization.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.