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Latest News - March 2010

March 26, 2010
UAW Members Accuse Top Leaders of Nepotism
Author: Joseph Szczesny
Source: Oakland Press

Disgruntled members of the United Auto Workers have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards, charging top union officials with using their offices to place friends and family in jobs.

“Your department is being asked to investigate because we (the members) are not allowed to address these issues during union membership meetings,” the complaint said. “A sergeant-at-arms will attempt to usher you out of the meeting or yell for you to sit down.  We need someone to look into these findings so the hard working members who work on the line each day will know that our interest is being protected.”

Scott Allen, director of public affairs for the Labor Department’s office in Chicago, said Thursday the department’s procedure did not allow him to either confirm or deny any information about the complaint.

The union also did not respond to a request for comment.

However, the complaint also has brought to light a bitter internal rift within the union over a staff contract. Union staff members three times voted down a proposed contract calling for concessions. The UAW’s executive board had demanded the concessions to bolster the union’s finances and to bring the staff contract more into line with the contract changes the recession has imposed on other union members.

While members of the UAW, the staff representatives also have their own union, complete with its own pension plan.

“Reps that were on staff more than 10 years would lose a portion of their health care and approximately $2,000 in income because 10 furlough days would be implemented in 2010,”  one former representative said in an e-mail to The Oakland Press.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, with the blessing of his designated successor, UAW Vice President Bob King, countered by threatening to impose the contract over the objections of staff representatives and pressuring opponents of the concessions into retirement.

More than 20 of the union staffers have now retired, the complaint noted. It also alleges that top union officials have threatened some staffers with dismissal if they don’t support the concessions.

While the UAW’s executive board’s tactics in the dispute are hardly new or novel, the union has traditionally spent heavily on legal fees to defend UAW members or would-be members from retaliation or dismissal.

The complaint to the Department of Labor also singled out UAW Vice President Cal Rapson for stacking the staff of the UAW-GM Human Resources Center with friends, cronies and relatives. The complaint listed 10 UAW-GM Center for Human Resources employees with close personal relations to Rapson.

The union has been dogged with questions about nepotism for more than a decade. Don Douglas, former president of UAW Local 594 in Pontiac, was convicted on a federal charge of using his position to pressure GM to fill jobs with employees specifically designated by him.

The complaint also asked the DOL to examine how the union selected individuals from the plant floor for special assignment to the UAW-GM CHR without regard for seniority or with posting the positions in GM plans

“Currently, there are approximately 76 hourly employees special assigned to the UAW-GM CHR from General Motors plants across the country, mostly from Michigan. Some are from closed plants,” the complaint said.

“These individuals are simply selected based upon who they owe favors. They are protected when plant layoffs occur while their fellow union brothers and sisters with more seniority are laid off.”

The complaint also noted that the Human Resources Center, which has been kept intact through the recession and contract changes despite calls from disgruntled union members, also is preparing to spend upwards of $54,000 on a retirement party for Rapson.

While the invitations haven’t been mailed yet, the party is tentatively scheduled during a union-management conference scheduled to Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago for late May, one of the complaints said in an e-mail to The Oakland Press. A call to Rapson’s office was not returned.

Ken Been, director of communications for the UAW-GM CHR, also declined to comment.

“It’s not something we are in a position to comment on,” he said.

The complaint also took aim at the so-called flower funds that have long been targeted by union dissidents.

The common practice has been for union staffers to donate $10 to $25 per month in a fund controlled directly by department heads and actually used to purchase flowers and funeral wreaths.

However, the funds are also used as political slush funds to pay for re-election campaigns and convention parties, critics say. The practice is defended because it is way of keeping outside money from influencing the union’s internal politics, supporters of the union have said in the past.

Administration of the funds varies from director to director. For example, Gettelfinger, and now King, have returned unused portions of the funds to staff members.

However, other directors kept strict tabs on staff contributions, warning staffers they had not donated enough.

“It was considered their money,” one retired union staffer familiar with the practice told The Oakland Press.

Former UAW President Steve Yokich, who died shortly he stepped down from the UAW presidency in 2002, left office with an estimated $300,000 in his personal flower fund.


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