A retired United Auto Workers vice president has become the highest-ranking union official yet charged in a federal corruption investigation.
Joe Ashton was the union’s representative on the board of General Motors, and also sat on the board of the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, a joint worker training center. He’s charged with fraud and money laundering.
Ashton is accused of conspiring with former UAW officials Michael Grimes and Jeff Pietrzyk to rig bids for vendors, then demand kickbacks. Ashton accepted at least $550,000 in kickbacks, according to federal court filings.
Grimes and Pietrzyk have both pleaded guilty to federal charges. So have ten other former UAW or Fiat-Chrysler officials, all of whom were involved in one of multiple union-related corruption schemes. Ashton is charged in a criminal information, which means a plea deal is likely.
The charges against Ashton come days after UAW President Gary Jones took a paid leave of absence under intensifying pressure from the ongoing investigation. Jones is a target of federal investigators, but has not been charged with any crime.
The UAW’s new interim president, Rory Gamble, is pledging to do whatever is necessary to “bring integrity back to this union.”
“It’s very disheartening, and it’s very disappointing,” Gamble said of the corruption scandals. “I’ve worked with some of these folks, I’ve known them for years.”
“They need to be judged, and they need to pay for the betrayal of our great membership.”
Gamble, speaking to Michigan Radio’s Stateside on Wednesday, insisted the corruption still comes down to what he calls “a few bad apples” within UAW leadership. However, “We are definitely in crisis mode at the UAW," he said.
Gamble said he planned to present some unspecified initiatives to the UAW leadership board at a meeting on Thursday, launching a broader effort to “turn this thing around.”
“They are going to be some very hard and some very unpopular things that we’re going to have to do, but we don’t have a choice,” Gamble said.
Gamble acknowledged the possibility the federal government could step in and take over running the UAW, and said he has no control over that. But Gamble said the UAW can clean up on its own. “Under my watch, I intend to hand over to the next president a clean and uncorrupted union,” he said.