In August, workers at Nissan Motor Co.’s assembly plant in Canton, MS, voted nearly two to one against representation by the United Auto Workers (UAW).
The vote marked the latest defeat for the UAW, which is desperate to unionize an automotive assembly plant in the South. Workers at Nissan’s factory in Smyrna, TN, rejected the UAW in 1989 and 2001. And in 2014, the union lost a vote to represent workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, TN.
Last month’s defeat must be a particularly tough pill to swallow for UAW leadership, which put 10 years of groundwork into the vote. The UAW’s Mississippi campaign featured support from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, actor Danny Glover, local clergy, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (The union sought to brand its organization efforts as a continuation of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.)
The timing of the vote was not auspicious. Only days earlier, a federal grand jury indicted three people for conspiring to siphon millions of dollars from a fund used to train UAW members at FCA US LLC. They are:
Alphons Iacobelli, vice president for employee relations at FCA, who abruptly left the automaker a month before the start of 2015 UAW contract negotiations. Iacobelli is accused of pocketing union worker training funds to pay for a $350,000 Ferrari, two solid-gold Mont Blanc pens, and renovations to his upscale home.
Businesswoman and photographer Monica Morgan, the widow of General Holiefield, a UAW vice president who died of cancer in March 2015. From 2008 through June 2014, Holiefield was the top negotiator for the UAW with Chrysler. Morgan is alleged to have received some $30,000 in airline tickets and had the $262,000 mortgage on her and Holiefield’s home paid off using the training center funds.
Jerome Durden, a financial analyst with FCA’s corporate accounting department. From 2008 through 2015, he was controller of the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center. On Aug. 8, Durden pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and of filing false tax returns that failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to Iacobelli, Holiefield, one or more companies controlled by Morgan, and a nonprofit charity controlled by Holiefield.
UAW President Dennis Williams issued a statement saying the union “had absolutely no knowledge of the fraudulent activities” alleged in the indictment and that the union is cooperating with the Justice Department. “The UAW is appalled at the allegations…which constitute a betrayal of trust by a former vice president of our union,” the statement said. “The UAW has zero tolerance for corruption or wrongdoing of this kind at any level.”
All in all, August was not a good month for the UAW. It will be interesting to see how the news affects the union ahead of contract negotiations with the Detroit Three automakers in 2019.