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Howes: The cost of corruption

daniel howes
Daniel Howes
Detroit News

The United Auto Workers strike against General Motors is all about economics and job security. Yet for just about everyone else, it’s about political opportunity.

Democrats running to take on President Donald Trump are one-upping each other in a race to publicly support striking auto workers, especially in the politically crucial states of Michigan and Ohio. They should be careful.

Republicans in Washington are demanding hearings into "brazen" corruption at the UAW. It’s the union's unintentional gift to its adversaries.

And top leaders at the union are beginning to weigh which one of them could step into the leadership breach. That’s if the continuing federal investigation into corruption forces President Gary Jones to resign.

You want to know the cost of corruption? This is it – far beyond the dollars and cents of embezzling member dues and joint-training center money. The UAW faces a political free-for-all of its own making.

It could imperil the union’s independence should the expanding criminal case morph into a federal takeover. It already has battered the credibility of Solidarity House, and likely will do more damage if Jones is forced to resign because of his alleged role in the scheme.

All for what? Golf clubs and trips to a California zoo. Poolside villas and steak dinners. Cigars and $400 bottles of Cristal. The smallness of it all, detailed in court papers, is inversely proportional to the scale of damage to the union’s leadership and the organization.

The UAW rank-and-file and its legion of retirees can thank leadership for opening the political floodgates to the UAW’s traditional adversaries. The tales of greed and self-dealing will be used against UAW organizers by anti-union Republicans, by right-to-work activists, and by cranky union members who feel deceived.

That’s because they were.

It’s all a gift to the union’s critics, neatly wrapped up by federal prosecutors clearly targeting top UAW leadership and their enablers. And now Republicans in Congress are talking RICO for the UAW. That’s the federal statute the government uses to crack down on organized crime.

The charges in the case are staggering: money laundering, tax fraud, bribery and embezzling union money, among other things. There were “false vouchers” to “conceal expenses” from union accountants. And one of the architects of the scheme is alleged by the feds to be “UAW Official A,” which The Detroit News identified as Jones.

The hypocrisy is staggering, too – coming from leaders claiming to protect their dues-paying members from corporate greed. That’s another rhetorical weapon the grasping leadership has handed the union’s adversaries.

The shock waves of this federal crackdown are only beginning to reverberate. And the coastal trope that “no one cares” outside the heartland soon will be proven wrong.

People care, starting with the ones whose dues have been squandered by leaders living the good life … with other people's money.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.
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