UAW Local 594 Officials Face Federal Corruption Charges
In early October, one United Auto Workers international representative and two former UAW Local 594 officials pleaded not guilty to federal charges of extortion, mail fraud, and violating federal labor laws.
The charges stem from allegations that the officials unnecessarily prolonged a 1997 strike at the General Motors truck plant in Pontiac, Michigan, seeking payments from GM and jobs in the plant for relatives who were unqualified for their jobs. If convicted of all charges the three face up to 30 years in prison, fines totaling $750,000, or both.
The charges are the culmination of a four-year investigation into alleged corruption in the Pontiac-area UAW Local 594 by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Rank-and-file members of Local 594 sparked the investigations, and filed a civil suit in 2000, after voicing concerns about the practices of the local’s leadership. Federal officials convened a grand jury, pored over documents at Local 594’s offices, and finally announced the charges in late August of this year.
GM PAYOFFS TO END STRIKE
Two of the men facing federal charges, Jay Campbell and Bill Coffey, are now retired. During the 1997 strike and afterwards Campbell served as the local’s shop committee chairman; Coffey was skilled trades committeeman. The other man charged, Donny Douglas, a former president of Local 594, has been an international representative for the UAW’s GM division since 1995.
The three were involved in negotiations with GM management during the 87-day strike, one of the longest UAW strikes in recent memory.
Following the strike GM hired more than 300 new workers at the Pontiac plant. Campbell’s son, Gordon Campbell, and Todd Fante, the son of a friend of Donny Douglas, were hired for skilled trades positions. According to Gene Austin, a member of 594’s new reform leadership and currently the local’s shop chair, dozens of members signed onto a grievance outlining concerns with Campbell and Fante’s lack of job qualifications.
Austin says that the local officers, GM and the UAW International stalled on the grievance. Supporters of the grievance were not sure at the time if anything illegal had happened, but merely wanted to investigate the issue.
According to Austin, local officials revealed at a September 1997 union meeting that they had received large grievance payments for overtime from GM following the settling of the strike. Campbell said that he had received approximately $40,000, and that GM owed him more. Coffey revealed that he had received approximately $60,000.
At the same meeting Douglas allegedly admitted to delaying settlement until GM agreed to hire Fante and Campbell and to add more jobs at the Pontiac plant. Language which stipulated the hiring of Fante and Campbell was apparently missing from copies of the contract made available to the membership.
Members again raised the grievance at a union meeting in March 2000. At that meeting then-president Larry Trandell, who had been president during the strike, allegedly said that he had received approximately $35,000 in payments from GM.
Trandell apparently admitted that GM had delayed payment until after the most recent president’s election, due to worries that if members knew about the money, it would hurt his chances of winning. Members filed an NLRB complaint regarding Trandell’s revelation, which remains unresolved.
CIVIL SUIT, UAW MUTE ON CHARGES
This prompted 137 members to file a civil lawsuit in August 2000, against both the UAW and GM. They argue that the UAW failed to fairly represent the membership during contract negotiations and that GM reached a contract with Local 594 that violated terms of the national UAW contract.
The suit seeks an estimated $50 million in compensatory damages from GM and $500 million in punitive damages from the UAW on behalf of the more than 5,000 workers at the Pontiac plant.
A federal grand jury has taken testimony from UAW members and officials, and as late as August of 2002 federal investigators have visited the Pontiac offices of Local 594. GM representatives say they are cooperating with the government, but Local 594 members are frustrated that charges have not also been filed against General Motors for making the payoffs. UAW members allege that GM management has removed all the GM personnel who worked at the plant during the strike to other GM facilities.
OLD REFORMERS GO BAD, NEW REFORMERS MOVE IN
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Donny Douglas was a leader of a reform group within the UAW, the New Directions Movement. As president of Local 594 he ran for director of the union’s Region 1, garnering a third of convention delegates’ votes. The local is still paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for damages from a sexual harassment suit made by a union staffer against Douglas.
Austin was part of a reform slate that won most of the Local 594 positions in an election this past spring. The new leadership is addressing a massive backlog of grievances, and promises to usher in a more aggressive strategy towards GM. “We won’t allow ourselves to be bought,” assures Austin. “Management is finding that quite perplexing.”
Austin says he is confident that Local 594 membership will be favorable to an upcoming strike vote on whether to authorize a strike at the GM Pontiac plant over violations of the last contract.
Some UAW members point to the existence of the UAW-GM joint programs and funds, and the philosophy of co-operation which accompanies the programs, as a source of corruption in the union.