Labor Watchdogs and Republicans Raise Concerns Over Corruption Investigation of Pro-Biden Union

Then-candidate Joe Biden speaks to a United Auto Workers meeting / Getty Images
December 18, 2020

The union that spent big to help Joe Biden win Michigan has been forced to cough up $16.5 million to settle an embezzlement probe that led to prison terms for top executives. Labor watchdogs and Republican lawmakers are fearful that Democrats will abandon anti-corruption measures that could threaten some of their largest campaign donors.

The United Auto Workers union reached a settlement this week with federal prosecutors over a years-long corruption probe that saw 11 former union officials charged with crimes. Two Republican lawmakers on the House Committee on Education and Labor said congressional Democrats turned a blind eye to corruption and warned of soft-pedaling future treatment of unions even as the UAW settled the multimillion-dollar corruption probe.

"Congressional Democrats have ignored this corruption scandal for too long, and it is time to put greater transparency and accountability measures in place to protect workers and their rights," Rep. Tim Walberg (R., Mich.) told the Washington Free Beacon. "The hardworking dues-paying men and women of the UAW deserve nothing less."

Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), ranking Republican member on the committee, said lawmakers should keep the pressure on organized labor. She criticized congressional Democrats for repeatedly rejecting requests to dig into the union's activities.

"I am concerned that my Democrat colleagues have ignored this growing scandal and remain undeterred in their zeal to empower Big Labor," Foxx said in a statement. "Instead of shedding a light on union corruption and supporting efforts to increase transparency and accountability within unions, it appears Democrats are content to reward Big Labor for illegal behavior."

The UAW has already returned $15 million to training centers used by UAW officials and Fiat Chrysler executives to embezzle union funds. It further agreed to pay $1.5 million to address back taxes, as well as six years of independent monitoring of its financial activities, according to a Department of Justice settlement announced on Monday. U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said that while the investigation into the union is over, additional criminal charges against individuals in the union could still occur. Top union officials, including two former presidents, have pleaded guilty to embezzlement and corruption allegations.

Labor watchdogs echoed Foxx's call for continued oversight of labor unions. F. Vincent Vernuccio, senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told the Free Beacon that federal authorities should push for direct oversight, rather than outsourcing accountability to a third party. He is skeptical that the Biden administration will take such action after the union spent $6 million to boost Democrats in 2020 and provided critical ground support in the crucial swing state of Michigan.

"U.S. Attorney Schneider's effort to protect UAW members and root out corruption among their leadership should be applauded and should continue into the future," Vernuccio said. "In addition to prosecuting those who have breached the trust of their membership, a Biden Department of Labor should continue the work of the Trump administration to ensure transparency among union finances."

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, expressed skepticism that Biden would continue to pressure a union that supported him during the election. He also pointed to Biden's pro-labor track record as evidence that the president-elect will capitulate to labor unions.

"Through all his decades in Washington, Biden has repeatedly sided with union bosses over rank-and-file workers, and that track record suggests he is more than willing to protect his union boss benefactors from being embarrassed by a full accounting of the corruption within the UAW hierarchy," Semmens said.

The settlement is also a victory for the workers the union mistreated, said Charlyce Bozzello, communications director for the Center for Union Facts. "Holding union officials accountable for their bad actions shouldn’t be a partisan issue," she said.

When contacted for comment about the continued investigations into individuals in the union, a UAW spokesman directed the Free Beacon to the joint statement issued with Schneider's office. "As I said upon taking office, my overriding goal is to deliver a clean, reformed and ethical union to my successor," UAW president Rory Gamble said in the statement. "Today’s collaborative agreement with the government ensures that we are well on our way toward achieving that goal."

The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment.