The UAW Can't Stop Embarrassing Itself

Photo: AP

The UAW tried and failed for years to organize auto plants in the south; its leadership is almost cartoonishly corrupt; and now its new president is now reportedly under federal investigation himself, despite having promised to clean things up.

Let’s run through the latest via The Detroit News, which I first saw last night and assumed it was some kind of strange dream:

Federal agents investigating a kickback and bribery scandal within the United Auto Workers are probing financial ties between President Rory Gamble, retired Vice President Jimmy Settles and one of the union’s highest-paid vendors, sources told The Detroit News.

The agents are investigating whether UAW leaders received cash kickbacks or bribes in exchange for awarding lucrative contracts to Huntington Woods businessman Jason Gordon to supply union-branded merchandise, according to two sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

Agents are investigating a tip that secret cash payments were delivered to UAW officials at a Detroit strip club, which The News has been told is the Bouzouki Greektown.

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It was just over a month ago that Gamble was appointed president of the UAW, saying at the time, “I promise one thing: when I retire and turn over this office, we will deliver a clean union on solid footing.” The investigation suggests that that statement could still remain true, though now perhaps with some help from federal agents. Meanwhile Gamble’s new statement to the News was vague at best:

“I would not have accepted the role of president if I couldn’t withstand the scrutiny,” Gamble, 64, said in a statement to The News. “Our union has suffered enough as a result of corrupt leaders. On my watch, we cannot and will not allow financial improprieties to rob our members of their hard-earned dollars. My sole focus as president is to strengthen the union’s financial controls, oversight and accounting system — and most importantly, to restore the trust of our union members.”

The Detroit News also points out that Gamble apparently had some money issues, with two homes foreclosed on and thousands of dollars in delinquent property and income taxes, perhaps making himself a target. But the fact that he’s being investigated at all suggests that to federal agents none of these guys are clean until proven to be as much.

Gamble gave a different statement to UAW members Thursday afternoon, specifically denying that he’d ever even been to the strip club with a vendor:

“Additionally, I have never been to the establishment cited in the article with Mr. Gordon or any other vendor. That is simply untrue and never happened.”

Gamble continued: “In all those years of working with this vendor, they never approached me in any manner that was less than professional or questionable in any way, and I absolutely never requested or received any cash or kickback from the vendor or any other. Nor did I ever approach them in any unprofessional or questionable manner.”

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And, for sure, this investigation could conclude in the end that Gamble hasn’t done anything wrong, but the fact that this is an issue at all tells you all you need to know about the UAW.

The fact that the union pulled off a strike in the midst of all of this also tells you something, since while the UAW’s leadership seems determined to embarrass it, the UAW’s members went about doing the work of the union itself.

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About the author

Erik Shilling

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.