DETROIT — Two UAW members representing thousands are seeking a special convention to strip UAW leaders implicated in a federal corruption probe of their union membership.
Union members Omar Guevara and Brian Keller want to enact articles in the UAW constitution to clean out what they call corrupt UAW leadership.
The men run Facebook pages “UAW Real Talk” with about 22,000 UAW member followers from General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co. They also host a nightly podcast.
Guevara works for GM at Detroit-Hamtramck and Keller works for FCA’s Mopar Distribution Center.
“We can fight our own leadership if the people follow our constitution and oust these guys,” said Guevara.
Guevara and Keller said they want to use a special convention, in direct opposition to another group of UAW members who want to quit the union by opting out of paying dues.
“I’ve had people reach out to me, and there are a couple thousand members who want to opt out of paying union dues, but we’re trying to talk them out of that,” said Guevara. “That’s not a good solution for our membership.”
A UAW spokesman declined to comment on either matter.
Union still needed
Keller said the workers still need a union, so quitting it out of anger is not the answer.
“That’s the wrong answer,” said Keller. “You strip away the union, there’s nothing standing between us and the company and they’ll walk us out the back door and fill the plants with temps.”
Guevara said that opting out of paying dues in the right-to-work states, such as Michigan and Texas, will only show anger, but not reform the union to better serve its members.
“My game plan is to reform the leadership so that the members can have equality,” said Keller.
By equality, he means a one-tier wage system. Keller said he blames past UAW negotiators for allowing the creation of workers hired after 2007 to be paid less than those hired before 2007, known as legacy workers. Those hired after 2007 start at $17 an hour compared with the legacy workers, who can earn more than $30 an hour.
“We lack equality in the union and we want to get it back,” said Keller. “The only way to do that is through Article 8 in the constitution, which calls for a special convention and Articles 30 and 31.”
Articles 30 and 31 call for the trials and charges of UAW International representatives, he said. And those are the people he blames for “pushing those contracts and basically lying and deceiving the membership.”
On Saturday, UAW President Gary Jones said he would be taking a leave of absence as the federal corruption probe into the union’s top leadership escalates.
The paid leave was effective Sunday, one day before voting began Monday on a new contract with Ford and ahead of the union’s upcoming negotiations with FCA for a new four-year contract.
UAW Vice President Rory Gamble, who just led negotiations for the tentative agreement with Ford, will serve as acting president, the UAW said.
Jones was accused as “UAW Official A” in federal court papers last week of splitting up to $700,000 in union funds with another union official.
Jones has not yet been charged, but Edward Robinson, a union official in Missouri, was accused Thursday in a criminal information of conspiracy to embezzle union funds and to defraud the United States. Robinson’s regional office was the same one Jones had once led.
Vance Pearson, the current director of that office, Region 5, is on leave facing his own charges in the scandal. A dozen people — union and auto company officials — have been charged to date.
Jones’ attorney, J. Bruce Maffeo, who is based in New York, responded to a request for comment to the leave development but did not address the prospect of charges.
“As he has throughout his career, Gary places the members’ interest above his own. He requested a leave of absence so that the union can continue its fight to improve the lives of the UAW’s members and families,” said Maffeo, whose areas of practice include white-collar defense and investigations.
Guevara and Keller say the UAW International’s constitution has mechanisms to rid the UAW of any alleged corrupt leaders.
In the UAW constitution: Articles 30 and 31 call for trials and charges against union officials to strip them of their membership, said Keller. Article 8 calls to set up a special convention to vote in new leadership to replace the ousted members.
Guevara said stripping the leaders of their membership is a step toward getting the legal system to deny those charged with corruption of receiving their UAW pensions, which he said they should not get.
“A lot of people are unaware of what their constitution says,” said Guevara.
Keller and Guevara are working on language to petition the UAW to implement the appropriate articles to try the implicated leaders and have a special convention to vote in new leadership. But Keller admits the federal government might beat them to it.
“If the federal government ends up indicting Gary Jones, the Solidarity House will be forced to call a special convention,” said Keller. “But we don’t want government oversight, like the Teamsters got; we just want corrupt leadership to step down. If we can show the government that we can handle our own matters and clean up our own sight, we won’t get any government oversight and can do what’s best for our members.”