Once again, the United Auto Workers has found itself in hot water. Federal investigators have launched a probe into the union’s so-called “flower funds.” Allegedly intended to collect money to provide flowers at the funerals of auto makers, these funds may have a more nefarious purpose.
Investigators are looking into the possibility that senior UAW officials who control the funds—including presidents, vice presidents, and regional directors—were threatening high level staff into contributing to them. If these staff members refused to donate, they could fear being demoted back to the assembly lines. Even worse, it looks like UAW officials were funneling money from the flower funds into their own bank accounts.
Let’s not forget that this investigation is just the latest probe in an ongoing corruption scandal at the union. Last year, federal investigators found that over $9 million was funneled to UAW officials through the union’s training centers. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) officials bribed UAW staff with extravagant vacations and presents, including “a $30,000 party for a UAW official, complete with ultra-premium booze, $7,000 worth of cigars and $3,000 in wine with custom labels honoring the union boss.” So far, this probe has resulted in the conviction of seven high ranking UAW and FCA officers.
To make matters worse, during the investigation the union was constructing a luxury cabin in Michigan for former UAW president Dennis Williams–who was also implicated in the scandal. Williams’ residence was financed with money from the union’s $721 million strike fund—which is funded by worker dues. To top it all off, the cabin was built using non-union workers.
Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan, explained how the flower funds scandal could be the final straw for UAW employees: “This positions the union not as the workers’ friend but as a big powerful thing that would extort money from its own members.”
Any union looking for an example of “what not to do” need look no further than the UAW. Members would be wise to take notice.