Labor Watchdog Calls on Biden to Repudiate 'Corrupt' Union Ally

Ex-UAW leaders have admitted to bribery, corruption charges

UAW Headquarters in Detroit, 2019 (Getty Images)
July 17, 2020

A labor watchdog group is urging presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden to reject the support he's received from corrupt union leaders after a top party ally pleaded guilty to embezzlement in June.

National Right to Work Committee president Mark Mix sent a letter to Biden on Thursday, calling on the Democrat to "put the rights of workers above the demands of union bosses" and "disavow the support" from top brass at the United Auto Workers union. Just weeks earlier, former UAW president Gary Jones pleaded guilty to embezzlement, racketeering, and tax evasion. Jones, a prominent Democratic ally, admitted to spending more than $1 million in union funds on miscellaneous luxuries such as premium cigars and liquor, fine dining, vacation rentals, golf outings, and clothing. The union endorsed Biden in April, prior to Jones's guilty plea.

"It seems as though UAW officials are deliberately stalling in a clinical ploy to 'run out the clock' on the Trump Justice Department, in the hopes that your administration will let them off the hook," Mix's letter states. "It is no surprise, therefore, that these same union bosses are currently spending millions to get you elected."

The UAW is still under investigation after a federal probe into the union began more than five years ago. The investigation has led to the convictions of at least 11 top union officials, including former UAW vice president and DNC delegate Norwood Jewell, who admitted to receiving illegal benefits from Fiat Chrysler executives.

Biden has repeatedly praised the union throughout the probe, saying he was "proud to stand with UAW" as GM employees went on strike in September 2019. Nine union officials had admitted wrongdoing at the time, including former Region 5 director Vance Pearson, who participated in negotiations with GM days before attending a Missouri federal court hearing. Pearson pleaded guilty to embezzlement in February. The UAW has spent more than $2.3 million on legal fees stemming from the investigation, its latest Labor Department filing shows.

Top Democrats on the House Committee on Education and Labor ignored Republican calls to investigate the union in November. Democrats on the committee have taken more than $300,000 in UAW money, and Biden accepted at least $10,000 in direct contributions from the union as a member of Congress. UAW leaders have given more than $4.25 million to Democrats since the FBI's corruption investigation began in 2015.

"If you are elected, a refusal to stand up to the UAW would taint your Justice Department from day one, sending a clear message to American workers that union boss malfeasance will continue to go unpunished as long as Big Labor has greased the right palms," Mix wrote in his letter to Biden.

The Trump administration's Justice Department has threatened to seize control of the union in order to root out corruption, and current UAW president Rory Gamble met with federal prosecutors in late June in an attempt to avoid the takeover. Reached for comment, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg called Mix's letter "ridiculous." He pointed to a joint statement issued by Gamble and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider following their meeting.

"I look forward to continued discussions in the near future that advance toward closing one dark chapter and opening new brighter chapters for members of the UAW," Gamble said in the statement.

Biden labor allies outside of the UAW have also been ensnared in embezzlement allegations. According to an internal probe, International Association of Fire Fighters president Harold Schaitberger helped siphon millions of dollars from the union's pension fund over the last two decades for personal profit. The IAFF became the first national union to endorse Biden in April 2019 under Schaitberger's direction, and the union has spent nearly $80,000 supporting the Democrat's candidacy. More than 18,000 IAFF members objected to the endorsement.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.