The indictment of a former union executive's wife in a federal bribery investigation could complicate the United Automobile Workers' quest to unionize a Nissan factory in right-to-work Mississippi.
On Thursday workers at a Canton Nissan factory began voting on whether they should join the UAW, the nation's largest autoworkers union with more than 415,000 members. The election comes just one week after the Department of Justice announced that it had indicted a former Chrysler executive and the wife of a deceased union vice president for engaging in a $1.2 million dollar bribery scheme. On July 26, Nissan Our Team Our Future, a group created to oppose unionization, posted a news article about the indictment to its website.
Nissan said in a statement to the Detroit News that the story highlights the one-sided image that the UAW has sold to workers. The company is not backing down from sharing the information with its employees.
"Voters have the right to know the company's perspective on what we believe is in the best interest of our team and our plant, as well as important information about the UAW and about union representation," Nissan told the Detroit News. "The UAW has only ever wanted employees to hear one side of the story—the union's side. The company has the right, and we believe the obligation, to provide employees with full information as they prepare to make this important decision, and we will continue to do so."
The Department of Justice filed the indictment after a lengthy FBI investigation. The indictment alleges that Monica Morgan, the wife of the late United Auto Workers Vice President General Holiefield, and other UAW executives that negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with Fiat Chrysler collected $1.2 million in travel, perks, and goods from former Fiat Chrysler Vice President Alphons Iacobelli. Iacobelli allegedly steered millions in funds away from the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center, a non-profit organization that educates workers, to benefit himself and union executives. Iacobelli spent lavishly with the training center's money, paying off Holiefield and Morgan's mortgage and buying a Ferrari for himself, according to the indictment.
Neither Iacobelli nor Morgan have returned requests for comment from the Washington Free Beacon.
Union treasurer Gary Casteel has called Nissan's Mississippi operation a "poster child of worker oppression" and accused the company of running "one of the nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labor movement" as voting was set to open. Casteel, who spearheaded a failed unionization campaign at a Volkswagen plant in right-to-work Tennessee, told the Detroit News that the indictment should not affect how workers perceive the union. He called the bribery scandal an "isolated incident" and said that the union "fully cooperated with authorities."
"This was an isolated incident involving a rogue individual in our organization and a rogue individual in the corporation," he said in a statement. "No union funds or dues were involved. Regardless, we dealt with it swiftly and decisively, and we have fully cooperated with authorities."
The election is a pivotal moment for the UAW. The union estimates that it will add between 3,500 and 3,800 dues-paying members to its ranks, but would also represent a major victory in the right-to-work south where foreign and domestic automakers increasingly direct manufacturing. Voting at the Nissan plant will close on Friday.