A labor watchdog is making the United Auto Workers' bribery scandal the centerpiece of its campaign urging workers to reject unionization.
The UAW is attempting to gain a foothold in right-to-work Tennessee, pushing to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga that rejected a previous union vote. The election will take place just weeks after a top union official pleaded guilty for his role in a bribery scandal at Chrysler. The Center for Union Facts has made it a priority to inform workers of corruption ahead of the vote, taking out full-page ads in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Wednesday.
"Think the UAW has workers' best interests in mind?" the ad says. "Multiple union officials pleaded guilty in a scheme to enrich themselves with worker training funds. The union has paid more than $1.5 million of members' dues to defend itself in the investigation."
The Justice Department announced bribery charges against top union and company officials in 2017 after finding that several key figures had embezzled money from a worker training center to enrich themselves. The scandal reached its peak when retired UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, who headed union negotiations with Chrysler, admitted to taking luxury golf trips paid for by the company. The union, which spent $218,000 defending Jewell, distanced itself from the executive saying he had exhibited "poor judgment" in connection to the scandal.
The UAW has emphasized its cooperation with investigators throughout the ordeal and launched a new transparency initiative in the wake of the indictments. A union spokesman said that the campaign in Chattanooga is about the future of workers at VW, rather than the mistakes of individual union officials. Labor organizations represent VW workers at nearly every factory in the world outside of the United States, according to the spokesman.
"Why should Chattanooga workers have to ask the boss for a raise not sit at a table and bargain like every other VW worker in the world?" he said in an email. "Chattanooga workers deserve the right to vote and be treated like all other VW workers who all have the right to bargain."
The ad will also appear in the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press in an effort to reach current UAW members. The Center for Union Facts said that the message is designed to spur discussion among current union members about their affiliation. The group's spokesman Charlyce Bozzello said CUF will also launch a new website, www.UAWInvestigation.com, to catalog the corruption allegations.
"The UAW has a history of lavish spending on the worker's dime, and the ongoing federal investigation may just be the tip of the iceberg," she said. "Whether the union is turning its back on workers in distress, or throwing lavish parties with money intended for training funds, workers should know what they're really in for when it comes to the UAW. This site aims to do just that."
Some union members have already spoken out against the union in connection to the scandal. While Jewell has been removed from UAW leadership, he still adorns monuments to labor strikes and picture still hangs in some local union halls, sparking a petition to scrub his name from all UAW property. More than 130 people, many of whom identify as UAW members, have signed on to the campaign.
Terry Bowman, a member of the UAW for 22 years as a Ford employee, has now become one of the union's most steadfast critics. Bowman founded Union Conservatives in part to raise awareness about corruption among his fellow workers. He said the union should halt organizing activities and campaigns until it can guarantee workers that it has changed its ways.
"I find it unsettling that the UAW continues to spend workers' hard-earned dues money to chase workers who have previously rejected their sales pitch," Bowman said. "The UAW should halt all organizing efforts until there's a public, all-clear signal from federal officials investigating the unscrupulous corruption case of UAW officials."
In 2014 the UAW launched a bid to unionize the VW plant in Chattanooga. Despite the German-based company's cooperation with the effort, employees voted against unionization 712-626.