The White House is seeking to end the United Auto Workers strike against General Motors with an agreement that would reopen an assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio that GM shut down in March.
The effort, described to POLITICO by two people close to the matter, would effectively put the White House on the side of the UAW. Some 48,000 GM workers went out on strike Monday demanding higher wages, more generous health care benefits and more job security than management has been willing to offer in a new contract.
One person close to the matter said National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and White House trade and manufacturing adviser Peter Navarro are both involved in the talks. This individual, who was not authorized to speak publicly, cautioned that discussions are still in early stages and that the White House may not be able to broker a deal.
In remarks to reporters Monday at the White House, President Donald Trump said “Federal mediation is always possible if that’s what they want. Hopefully, they’ll be able to work out the GM strike quickly. We don’t want General Motors building plants outside of this country.”
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the negotiations, though Trump himself indicated he was sympathetic to the workers’ cause.
“My relationship has been very powerful with the [UAW] — not necessarily the top person or two, but the people that work doing automobiles,” Trump said Monday. “Nobody has ever brought more companies into the United States.“
“And big things are happening in Ohio, including with Lordstown,” he said. “Very positive things are happening.“
A UAW spokesperson declined to comment on any overtures by the White House, saying it is focused on negotiations at the bargaining table. GM also declined to comment.
The president bludgeoned General Motors last year for announcing plans last year to cut nearly 14,000 jobs in North America, including plant closures in Michigan, Ohio, and Maryland. The Lordstown plant raised particular ire from Trump and has been used by critics to argue that his promise to revive U.S. manufacturing was an empty one.
Trump has been following negotiations between GM and the UAW for some time. In March, he admonished GM and the UAW for dragging their heels in renegotiating a contract.
“Why wait, start them now!“ Trump tweeted at the time. “I want jobs to stay in the U.S.A. and want Lordstown (Ohio), in one of the best economies in our history, opened or sold to a company who will open it up fast! Car companies are all coming back to the U.S. So is everyone else.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation today advised nearly 50,000 striking General Motors workers on how to quit the United Auto Workers and return to their jobs.
“The fact is, employees, do not have to become or remain members of the UAW or any other union to get or keep their jobs. Despite the often-misleading language in collective bargaining contracts, no employee is actually required to be a member of a union,“ the group said in the notice. “And if an employee is not a member of a union, then union officials cannot fine or discipline him or her.“
Some (but not all) of the plants whose workers are out on strike are located in “right-to-work“ states where union nonmembers aren’t required to pay union fees to cover their portion of collective bargaining costs. In the notice, the right-to-work foundation encouraged employees who want to return to work to quit the union first to prevent being disciplined by union leaders.
The right-to-work group’s call comes amid a widening corruption scandal at the UAW that has ensnared top leaders. President Gary Jones and former President Dennis Williams were implicated in a recent court filing, the Detroit News reported last week, and eight other people have been sent to prison.
The UAW has stood by a member of its executive board, Vance Pearson, who is accused of money laundering and fraud in connection with the scheme. Pearson continued to advise the UAW bargaining team this week despite the criminal charges pending against him.
New allegations of corruption last week against the UAW’s leadership by federal investigators landed just days before the union’s contracts with the Detroit 3 were set to expire, adding chaos to an already difficult set of negotiations.
The president of the union’s Region 5, which covers Missouri and 16 other Western and Southwestern states, was arrested and charged with conspiring to embezzle UAW funds. U.S. Justice Department prosecutors said Vance Pearson and other UAW leaders misused hundreds of thousands of dollars on leisurely vacations in California, golf clubs, lavish meals, cigars and $440 bottles of champagne. UAW President Gary Jones and his predecessor, Dennis Williams, are among the officials implicated, sources told The Detroit News and Reuters, although they were not identified by name in the criminal complaint against Pearson, 58.
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Three more United Auto Workers leaders were implicated in a federal embezzlement probe today, plunging the union into chaos as a contract deadline approaches.
The Detroit News reported Friday that UAW President Gary Jones and former president Dennis Williams are two unnamed officials accused in an indictment of helping orchestrate years-long embezzlement of training center funds. Separately, authorities arrested a member of the union’s executive board, Vance Pearson, on money laundering and fraud charges in connection with the same scheme.
The news came as the UAW raced toward a last-minute deal with General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler before contracts with these automakers expire Saturday night. Union leaders may call a strike if a tentative agreement is not reached by midnight.
UAW spokesperson Brian Rothenberg declined to comment on the reported charges against Jones and Williams but said the union stood by Pearson.
“While these allegations are very concerning, we strongly believe that the government has misconstrued any number of facts and emphasize that these are merely allegations, not proof of wrongdoing,” Rothenberg said in a statement. “Regardless, we will not let this distract us from the critical negotiations underway with GM to gain better wages and benefits for the more than 400,000 members of our union.”
The UAW seeks pay raises for workers to guard against a possible economic downturn, according to The Associated Press, though the company instead wants to pay lump sums tied to earnings. The union also wants new products to restart four idled GM factories in Michigan, Lordstown, Ohio and greater Baltimore.
The training-center scandal has sent eight people to prison so far, including high-level UAW officials accused of accepting bribes aimed at making them more pliable in bargaining. Former Vice President Norwood Jewell was sentenced to 15 months behind bars in August for using training-center funds to pay for 29 rounds of golf in Palm Springs, Calif., rent a three-bedroom villa with a private pool and hot tub, and purchase $2,000 of tickets to Disney World and Universal Studios theme parks, among other spoils.
The FBI last month raided Jones’ home in Canton, Mich. and Williams’ home in California. Agents also reportedly searched the union‘s 1,000-acre retreat in Northern Michigan, a regional office in Missouri where Jones worked before becoming president, and the Wisconsin home of Williams’ former top aide.
Agents reportedly seized more than $30,000 in cash from Jones’ house and a set of Titleist golf clubs purchased with union money. Jones’ neighbor told the Detroit News he observed agents counting “wads” of cash on the garage floor and searching a safe on the day of the raid.
“They were on the floor counting cash, going through the wads,“ said the neighbor, Kevin Telepo. “They pulled out a five-foot tube that was a UAW banner. They were really examining the golf clubs.“
Pearson is the director of a UAW regional office in Missouri where Jones worked before becoming president. Prosecutors say he and other union officials spent more than $100,000 on golf clubs and accessories, in addition to $60,000 on cigars, cutters, and lighters between over a four-year period. Pearson allegedly filed false reports with the Labor Department to conceal the expenses.