Exclusive Transcripts Show Disgraced UAW President Strongarmed Board To Pick His Own Successor

Chris Brooks April 7, 2020

Gary Jones, then the newly-elected President of the United Auto Workers (UAW), addresses the 37th UAW Constitutional Convention June14, 2018 at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

This sto­ry is the first in an ongo­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion between In These Times and Labor Notes.

Faced with an ongo­ing cor­rup­tion scan­dal that might lead to a gov­ern­ment takeover, Unit­ed Auto Work­ers Pres­i­dent Rory Gam­ble has pre­sent­ed him­self as rep­re­sent­ing a clean break from the union’s crooked inner cir­cle, some­one who can unite a frac­tured union and restore mem­bers’ trust after the UAW’s top lead­ers spent years steal­ing from the union and tak­ing mil­lions in employ­er pay­outs in exchange for concessions.

But tran­scripts of the Novem­ber 2, 2019 meet­ing of the UAW Inter­na­tion­al Exec­u­tive Board, the union’s top deci­sion-mak­ing body out­side the con­sti­tu­tion­al con­ven­tion, reveal that dis­graced for­mer pres­i­dent Gary Jones cast a decid­ing vote for a com­bined motion that pro­vid­ed him­self with a paid admin­is­tra­tive leave and named Rory Gam­ble as the inter­im pres­i­dent. The tran­script of the vote rais­es seri­ous ques­tions about both the vote’s legal­i­ty and Gamble’s rela­tion­ship to Jones and the Admin­is­tra­tion Cau­cus, the pow­er­ful and secre­tive rul­ing par­ty that has run the UAW for the past 70 years.

(These tran­scripts were made avail­able to me as a mem­ber in good stand­ing of UAW Local 1981, the Nation­al Writ­ers Union, per my request, which is a right afford­ed to all mem­bers under the UAW constitution.)

That Board mem­bers should not vote on deci­sions that impact them per­son­al­ly is a gen­er­al prin­ci­ple of good union gov­er­nance. Sev­er­al labor attor­neys say the vote also appears to vio­late union-spe­cif­ic laws. Title V of the Labor-Man­age­ment Report­ing and Dis­clo­sure Act (LMR­DA) of 1959 pro­hibits union offi­cers from par­tic­i­pat­ing in deci­sions where there is a con­flict between their own inter­ests and the union’s.

I would read that part of LMR­DA as say­ing that he can’t vote in a mat­ter in which he has a con­flict of inter­est,” says Thomas Geoghe­gan, a prac­tic­ing labor attor­ney in Chica­go. I think UAW mem­bers could chal­lenge the legit­i­ma­cy of that vote.”

Break­ing a tie vote to give your­self a paid leave of absence pend­ing a plea deal or crim­i­nal con­vic­tion for your own mis­con­duct as a union offi­cer is a breach of the union officer’s legal duty to the union and vio­lates the LMR­DA,” says Bar­bara Har­vey, a Detroit-based labor attor­ney with more than four decades’ expe­ri­ence. If he’s con­vict­ed or makes a plea deal, Jones will be oblig­at­ed to repay that paid leave.”

The meet­ing tran­script shows that Board mem­bers them­selves rebelled against the maneu­ver. While none expressed con­cern over Jones vot­ing to pro­vide him­self a paid leave, sev­er­al were upset over the vote being com­bined with the selec­tion of his suc­ces­sor. Dis­sent­ing board mem­bers decry the unprece­dent­ed com­bined motion as detri­men­tal,” unfair” and bull­shit.” Jones’ vote on the motion pro­vid­ed Gam­ble the nar­row one-vote major­i­ty he need­ed to claim the union’s top posi­tion on an inter­im basis.

On the ques­tion of whether Jones could legal­ly vote on his own leave, UAW spokesper­son Bri­an Rothen­berg replied via email, As pres­i­dent, he con­vened the meet­ing and had vot­ing pow­ers until his leave was accept­ed.” On com­bin­ing the two votes, Rothen­berg wrote, Under the UAW Con­sti­tu­tion, when a leader takes leave, the board must choose an inter­im leader.”

Jones lat­er resigned from the pres­i­den­cy in dis­grace, and on March 5 was brought up on charges by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment for embez­zling over $1 mil­lion out of the union. Accord­ing to the Detroit News, Jones is expect­ed to plead guilty and to coop­er­ate with the ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tion into oth­er UAW offi­cials — includ­ing the man he raised to the union’s top office with his improp­er vote, Rory Gamble.

Gary isn’t on a leave yet, Mitch”

The Novem­ber meet­ing was facil­i­tat­ed over a con­fer­ence call, and Jones request­ed that the Board pro­vide him a paid leave of absence, like [Vance Pear­son] did, until we get every­thing straight­ened up.”

In August, fed­er­al agents raid­ed the homes of Jones, then-UAW Region 5 Direc­tor Vance Pear­son, and for­mer UAW pres­i­dent Den­nis Williams as part of their inves­ti­ga­tion into cor­rup­tion in the union. Pear­son was grant­ed a paid leave by the UAW Inter­na­tion­al Exec­u­tive Board in Octo­ber 2019 and lat­er pled guilty to embez­zling union mon­ey. Williams has not been charged with a crime.

If approved, Jones’s leave would go into effect the next day.

Region 1A Direc­tor Chuck Brown­ing then made the high­ly unusu­al move of putting for­ward a sin­gle motion to both accept Jones’ paid leave request and nom­i­nate Vice Pres­i­dent Rory Gam­ble to fill the posi­tion. UAW Sec­re­tary-Trea­sur­er Ray Cur­ry and Vice Pres­i­dent Cindy Estra­da opposed com­bin­ing the motions and asked that they be split.

But a motion to split failed 7 – 6, with Jones as the decid­ing vote.

I’m real­ly dis­ap­point­ed in those motions being togeth­er,” said Estra­da. I get that you have the votes, but I think it’s detri­men­tal to this Board.”

I agree with that,” said Bev­er­ley Brake­man. I think it’s real­ly unfair. I think at this lev­el of deci­sion mak­ing, it deserves us being all in the same room.”

Jones then asked for a vote on the com­bined motion.

If Gary is on a leave, how can he vote? I don’t under­stand that,” asked Region 8 Direc­tor Mitchell Smith.

Gary isn’t on a leave yet, Mitch,” said Jones, refer­ring to him­self in the third person.

Estra­da spelled it out for Smith: They are tying it togeth­er so he has a vote.”

The vote then com­menced. When it came to Region 4 Direc­tor Ron McIn­roy, he vot­ed no and protest­ed: I think the way you’re doing this is total­ly wrong. You’re ask­ing for a leave for Gary. I sup­port a leave for Gary, but the bull­shit that’s going on, I don’t support.”

Why don’t we get Vance on the phone and let him have a vote too?” Estra­da asked sarcastically.

The com­bined motion also passed 7 – 6, with Jones again cast­ing a decid­ing vote.

Lat­er in the call, then-Region 1D Direc­tor Ger­ald Kariem, who had vot­ed no, implied that the motion might be legal­ly improp­er. I do not believe — and [UAW staff attor­ney Niraj Gana­tra] should prob­a­bly weigh in on this — on the motion that we took,” said Kariem. Putting those motions togeth­er, we have nev­er done that as a Board, two issues likes that putting them togeth­er. It hap­pened. It’s over with. It was done pret­ty clever. I just want­ed it on the record as folks know­ing that it’s not that I’m against the move that was made. It was how it was done. It was very clever.”

The tran­script does not show Gana­tra weigh­ing in on the legal­i­ty of the motion.

At the next meet­ing in Decem­ber — fol­low­ing Jones’ res­ig­na­tion — the Board unan­i­mous­ly vot­ed to make Gamble’s posi­tion as pres­i­dent permanent.

Reform­ers don’t come from inside a dictatorship

The con­tentious vote in Novem­ber is a rare win­dow into the divi­sions that exist among top-rank­ing mem­bers of the Admin­is­tra­tion Cau­cus, the par­ty that has con­trolled the UAW for the past 70 years. Once the Cau­cus makes a deci­sion, its mem­bers are expect­ed to present a unit­ed front to the pub­lic, regard­less of any ten­sions or differences.

Long-time dis­si­dents con­tend that the Admin­is­tra­tion Caucus’s cul­ture of con­for­mi­ty and silence has enabled cor­rup­tion. This view is borne out in court doc­u­ments and the UAW’s own Inter­na­tion­al Exec­u­tive Board dis­cus­sions, where appoint­ed union staff and aspir­ing lead­ers admit­ted that they kept their mouths shut about wrong­do­ing in the union out of fear of los­ing their cushy, high-pay­ing jobs and hav­ing to go back to the grind of the assem­bly line.

The attor­ney for Videll King, a senior UAW offi­cial in the Chrysler Depart­ment and the first union leader to be con­vict­ed as a result of the fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tion, leaned on the union’s enforced cul­ture of silence in her plea for lenien­cy at her sen­tenc­ing hearing.

The struc­ture of the Inter­na­tion­al UAW was, and remains, very hier­ar­chi­cal,” her lawyer argued. The Vice Pres­i­dents of each of the Big‑3’ unions wield enor­mous pow­er over their staffs. This includes vir­tu­al­ly total dis­cre­tion over who serves on staff and for how long. Per­sons like Ms. King are behold­en to their supe­ri­or, and if such a per­son out­lasts her or his wel­come that per­son is demot­ed or, worse, ter­mi­nat­ed from the Inter­na­tion­al and, if the per­son wants to keep the union job, sent back to the plants.”

The Admin­is­tra­tion Caucus’s pub­lic mes­sage of uni­ty was on full dis­play when Rory Gam­ble, wear­ing a bright blue blaz­er with a micro­phone in his hand, stood at the front of the UAW Region 1A hall in late Feb­ru­ary and explained to a room of union mem­bers how he was ini­tial­ly approached to be inter­im pres­i­dent by the region’s direc­tor, Chuck Browning.

In Gamble’s telling, he explained to Brown­ing that he would only take the posi­tion if he had unan­i­mous sup­port from the oth­er Board members.

I have to have the com­plete sup­port of the Board because for too long our board has been frac­tured and to lead, you have to lead by exam­ple,” Gam­ble recount­ed to the audi­ence. I nev­er believed that we should be frac­tured at the top and then telling you guys to prac­tice sol­i­dar­i­ty. That don’t cut it.”

But long­time UAW activists pre­sent­ed with the infor­ma­tion in the tran­scripts, see Gamble’s rise to the union’s top posi­tion differently.

This is like hav­ing the accused become a mem­ber of the jury,” says Mike Can­non, a retired UAW staff mem­ber who was active in the New Direc­tions reform move­ment in the late 1980s. There is no way they should allow some­one who is accused of cor­rup­tion to have a say in their own future in the union. I’m aston­ished by it all.”

Hav­ing Jones vote on paid leave for him­self, and his replace­ment as pres­i­dent, is a clear-cut case of a con­flict of inter­est and leads me to believe that the Gam­ble pres­i­den­cy might not be legit­i­mate,” says Asar Amen-Ra, a mem­ber of UAW Local 869 at Chrysler’s War­ren Stamp­ing plant.

Asked for com­ment on the legit­i­ma­cy of Gamble’s pres­i­den­cy, UAW’s Bri­an Rothen­berg not­ed the una­nim­i­ty of the sec­ond vote that installed Gam­ble as Jones’s per­ma­nent replace­ment, and the fact that no oth­er can­di­dates came for­ward for the job after Jones went on leave.

How­ev­er, the Board has the pow­er to select and con­firm can­di­dates to replace offi­cers, and once Gam­ble was select­ed as the inter­im pres­i­dent, it was unlike­ly that Admin­is­tra­tion Cau­cus mem­bers would break rank to chal­lenge him.

Amen-Ra remains skep­ti­cal of Gam­ble. Most reform­ers come from out­side, not the inside of a dic­ta­tor­ship. Gam­ble has been a part of the Admin­is­tra­tive Cau­cus for years and that cau­cus runs the UAW with an iron grip. If he were a real reformer, he and his cohorts would dis­solve the cau­cus and allow all union mem­bers voic­es to be heard through one-man, one-vote direct elec­tions of top lead­ers. That would be a start.”

Read a let­ter to the edi­tor here from UAW Pres­i­dent Rory Gam­ble in response to this story.

Chris Brooks is a staff writer and labor edu­ca­tor at Labor Notes, where he cov­ers the Unit­ed Auto Work­ers. He is a mem­ber of the Nation­al Writ­ers Union (UAW Local 1981).
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