will be on the upcoming election of the United Auto Workers in an
unprecedented referendum. The results could be game-changing for how
the UAW will operate in the future. It could also have a ripple
effect throughout organized labor. There's some poetic justice that
the elections open on October 19, the day UAW rebel organizer Jerry
Tucker succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2012.
years, workers and union supporters have criticized unions for
operating like corporate entities (stealing all they can) and elected
union leaders like corrupt politicians (suppressing democracy). Some
have even likened the tactics of the UAW hierarchy to that of the
Mafia. With about $1 billion in assets, greedy union officials had
deep pockets at their disposal for personal pleasures. Finally, the
situation has reached a flashpoint in the union family.
upcoming referendum is part of a consent decree by the Department of
Justice which conducted a multi-year investigation into the UAW
corruption scandal. Top union officials have been convicted and
former UAW Presidents Dennis Williams and Gary Jones received prison
time for their criminal roles.
election will give its nearly one million members (including
retirees) the opportunity to vote directly for their top officers.
You’re probably thinking, “Haven’t they been doing
that already?” Nope.
concept of the Administrative Caucus was conceived under the regime
of UAW President Walter Reuther as he consolidated power decades ago.
This began a slippery slope down the mountain into the swamp. Reuther
rooted out most of the radicals and left-wing militants who would've
challenged his relationships with strange bedfellows. The Caucus
operated as an internal party with the political clout to determine
who gets to run for the union offices. When delegates voted for their
executive officers at its conventions, it may have looked like
democracy in action but it was a mere rubber stamp of the top-heavy,
power-grabbing bureaucracy. The rank-and-file members are looking to
break the stranglehold of the one-party reign in the continuing
efforrs to democratize their union.
workers knew about the UAW’s corruption and collusion with
corporate management long before their dirty laundry was aired by the
Department of Justice.
the face of negotiated contracts that continued to favor management’s
unabated labor-busting strategy, Jerry Tucker and others engaged in
their own strategy of stealth organizing inside the plants. They went
on to launch the New Directions Movement, an opposition caucus inside
the UAW that advocated for better representation along with more
democracy, transparency and accountability.
of the latter was sorely lacking in the 1980s which was a
particularly tough time for union workers. The U.S. experienced a
deep recession. There was a dramatic loss of manufacturing jobs.
President Ronald Reagan come into office crushing PATCO, the air
traffic controller's union, who dared to strike for righteous
demands. The UAW and other unions adopted the "team concept"
that opened the doors for cozy relationships with management under
the guise of being equal negotiating partners. Since then, unions
have steadily lost genuine bargaining power and actual members.
union officials have indulged in lavish getaways in the millions of
dollars while workers toiled on assembly lines. Equally as
disgusting, they have taken bribes from auto companies, totally
compromising their ability to boldly represent their members. Members
have complained about jacked-up contracts for years, especially the
two-tiered system. Members have been forced to accept more
concessions with fewer benefits. During COVID-19, workers felt like
they were trapped in unsafe conditions which unnecessarily exposed
them to the deadly coronavirus. During the 2019 strike, workers
received paltry strike payments as union bosses were living large.
Union members are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Bill Fletcher wrote about the twenty union myths almost a decade ago,
I often used it as a source to squash attacks on unions by
misinformed people. They’re
dispels disinformation about unions from someone who is not a hater.
Bill is a former union member, a labor organizer and a staunch
advocate of unions. With Myth #20, "Unions are Corrupt and
Mobbed Up!" he admits unions are vulnerable to corruption like
any organization when there are no financial controls and levels of
accountability. He was clear-eyed that too often union officials
treat the treasury "as his or her personal bank." This is
an understatement when one takes a deep dive into the UAW's state of
also a former union member and a staunch advocate of unions. The
despicable actions of union leaders don't inspire optimism about the
future of the labor movement. My hope lies with the rank-and-file
workers although the challenges to turning the UAW around are
daunting. Their tasks are to restore trust both inside the union and
in communities, to set up strong and effective financial controls and
to draw neon lines of demarcation between union and corporate
management. Building a bold and democratic union that makes workers'
interests the top priority will be their top priority.