Last week, the court-appointed independent monitor for the United Auto Workers union released the rules for the union’s first ever mail-in direct election of the International Executive Board. The rules were published in a six-month update filed by the monitor.
Back in December, auto workers voted to adopt direct elections following a years-long corruption scandal at the union. As several high-ranking union officials – including two former union presidents – were found guilty of contributing to the union’s culture of corruption, members began calling for a move to a “one member, one vote” system. The vote itself was a result of the union’s settlement with the federal government.
The rules for the new election include some safeguards against future corruption. However, the monitor writes in his report that he wanted the rules to disrupt “as little of the UAW’s historical culture and practices as possible.” But many members pushed for direct elections as a way to shake up the union’s entrenched status quo – not tiptoe around it.
There are some positives. The new rules allow the UAW and the independent monitor to vet candidates. Any that are found guilty of fraudulent or corrupt activity in court or in a UAW disciplinary proceeding will be prohibited from running.
The rules also detail campaign finance rules and disclosures, specifically meant to address the use of “flower funds.” These flower funds were intended to collect money to provide flowers at the funerals of automakers. But investigators found that senior UAW officials who controlled the funds—including presidents, vice presidents, and regional directors—were threatening high level staff into contributing to the funds. If these staff members refused to donate, they could fear being demoted back to the assembly lines. And what was the UAW really doing with the money? Funneling it into their own bank accounts.
According to the independent monitor, the new rules “may impact the ability of Candidates, Slates, or Covered Parties from utilizing multi-purpose funds, like some of the Union’s Officers’ so-called ‘flower funds.’” However, the funds are not “categorically prohibited,” but anyone trying to use them for the election must “demonstrate complete adherence to the True Source and True Purpose Rules, or the funds in question will not be usable.”
The first ballots will be sent by mail to members on Oct. 17 and must be received by November 28. Only time will tell if the new election system will truly help weed out corruption at the UAW. But if the goal is to truly reform the union, we’re not sure creating a system “that would require as few changes as necessary to the Union’s existing structures” is the best way to go.