The United Auto Workers union has tried for years, without much success, to break into the South’s burgeoning post-Detroit automaking sphere. It was turned back most recently earlier this summer, when workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted down a move to unionize the plant.
Volkswagen, which has union-represented workers at many of its other assembly plants around the world, including Germany, conducted a spirited campaign before June’s election to convince workers they didn’t need outside representation. Part of their argument cited the UAW’s problems with corrupt leaders in the past.
That theme may well have been playing out again recently at auto plants around the South, as word came from Detroit about a federal raid at six locations in four states, including the suburban Detroit home of United Auto Workers President Gary Jones and the California residence of former President Dennis Williams.
Agents from the FBI, IRS and Labor Department have been investigating alleged bribes, kickbacks and attempts by auto executives to influence UAW labor negotiations. The raids netted files and “wads” of cash, according to investigators.
They also drew concern from those who noted that Big Four negotiations with the UAW are currently underway. The investigation has elements of civil racketeering law, commonly used against organized crime figures.
“We are very much in uncharted territory,” Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research, told the Detroit News.