Michigan Radio: Marick Masters on UAW, GM negotiations

GM workers have been on strike since midnight Monday. Company and union leaders are back at the bargaining table in Detroit. They’re trying to hammer out a new contract after GM workers walked off the job for their first strike since 2007. But there’s a third, unseen presence at the bargaining table this time. It’s the U.S. Justice Department, and its investigation into alleged corruption by some UAW officials. Peter Henning is a professor of law at Wayne State University and a former federal prosecutor. He says that when the feds investigated union leaders in the past, it was usually over suspected ties to organized crime. But this may be something entirely different. “It appears that it was essentially treating some of the funds like their own little piggy bank,” said Henning.

Some UAW officials allegedly devised a scheme to use union member dues for personal expenses, like California luxury accommodations and golf. These are only allegations, and neither Jones nor Williams has been charged. Despite GM’s profits right now, the automaker is looking at a possible looming recession, weakening demand, and tariff challenges. It’s leaning heavily on truck and SUV sales, as the industry is becoming more technologically complex and electrified. Marick Masters teaches business and labor studies at Wayne State. He says the UAW will inevitably have to make a less-than-perfect deal for its members—but with many union members’ skeptical of the leadership’s credibility, leaders are more likely to “play to the crowd” and less likely to make a deal. “And that becomes a vicious circle in which inflexibility on one side leads to inflexibility on the other side,” said Masters. “I think at this point in time, the company has the leverage, because of the cloud that hangs over the UAW leadership.”

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