President-elect Joe Biden met with United Auto Workers leaders Monday just hours after federal authorities moved to sentence an ex-union official to 34 months in jail in connection with a corruption probe.
Biden told a gathering of business and labor leaders that his administration would be in "lockstep" with them on reviving the economy after the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting between the Democrat and UAW leadership came the same day that federal prosecutors recommended a jail term of almost three years for former UAW vice president Joe Ashton, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.
The federal corruption probe has also ensnared the UAW's last two presidents. A total of 14 top union officials pleaded guilty to or were convicted of accepting illegal gifts, misusing millions in union funds, or embezzlement. The probe found that former UAW president Dennis Williams, who served from 2014 to 2018, used union funds to pay for personal expenses. Federal prosecutors called for government oversight of the union to root out corruption.
A labor watchdog questioned whether Biden's meeting with current UAW president Rory Gamble could influence the decision to monitor the union's activities.
"The next administration should be just as committed to fixing what ails the UAW as the current one," Charlyce Bozzello, communications director for the Center for Union Facts, told the Washington Free Beacon. "That means Joe Biden needs to prioritize rank-and-file workers instead of cutting his political allies in union leadership a break."
The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the UAW's potential federal oversight.
When asked for comment on the meeting and what was discussed, a UAW spokesman referred the Free Beacon to a June statement about negotiations between Gamble and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan to reform the union's practices. The union declined to comment on the content of the meeting.
The union endorsed Biden's candidacy in April, touting Biden's support for unionization and collective bargaining rights. "UAW Members need a federal government that ensures that members have both a good job to go to, and that they come home to their families at night having earned a fair day’s wage in a safe and secure place," Gamble said in the statement. The union donated nearly $6 million to Democratic political causes in 2020.
The question of union influence has dogged Biden in the past. The Obama administration eased federal oversight of the Teamsters shortly after Obama and Biden arrived in the White House. The decision drew scrutiny, particularly because the Teamsters union was one of the first major labor groups to endorse Obama in the 2008 campaign. Bozzello said Biden owes it to rank-and-file auto workers to protect them against the perception of corruption.
"After two former union presidents and numerous other officials have pleaded guilty to helping embezzle hundreds of thousands of members' dues dollars, government oversight of the UAW may be the only way to reverse years of entrenched corruption at the union," Bozzello said.