Members of the United Automobile Workers union voted decisively to change the way they choose their president and other senior leaders, choosing to select them by a direct vote rather than by a vote of delegates at a convention, like the union has been doing it for decades.
Votes on the electoral reform proposal were cast in a referendum open to around one million current union workers and retirees and expected Monday morning. About 143,000 members voted, and with 84 percent of the votes counted Wednesday night, a direct-election approach was favored by 63 percent, according to an independent observer appointed by the union’s court.
The referendum was required by a consent decree approved this year between the union and the Justice Ministry, which had spent years pursuing a series of corruption scandals involving the embezzlement of union funds by senior officials and illegal payments to union officials at the company then known as Fiat Chrysler.
More than 15 people have been sentenced as a result of the investigations, including two recent UAW presidents.
Reformers in the UAW have long supported the one member, one voice approach, arguing that it would lead to greater accountability, reduce corruption and force leaders to negotiate stronger contracts. A group called Unite All Workers for Democracy helped organize other members to support change in the referendum.
“Members of our great union have made it clear that they want to change the leadership of the UAW and return to our glory days by fighting for our members,” said Chris Budnick, UAW member at a Ford plant. Motor in Louisville, Ky., Who serves as sitting secretary for the reform group, in a statement Wednesday night. “I am so proud of the UAW members and their willingness to step up and vote for change.”
David Witwer, an expert on union corruption at Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg, said the experience of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has gone from voting through convention delegates to elections direct in 1991, after a racketeering lawsuit brought by federal prosecutors, supported the demands of the reformers.
Dr Witwer said the delegation system allowed apparently corrupt union leaders to stay in power because of the influence they had over congress delegates, who were usually local union officials who top leaders could reward or reward. to punish.
“Moving the national union election process from convention delegates to direct membership voting has been essential in changing the Teamsters,” he said via email.
At the UAW, leadership positions have been dominated for decades by members of the so-called administration caucus, a sort of political party within the union whose delegation system has enabled power.
Some longtime UAW officials give the caucus credit for helping elevate women and blacks to leadership positions before union members directly elected them.
But the caucus could be deeply insular. The Justice Department has argued in court records that Gary Jones, a former UAW president who was sentenced to prison this year for embezzling union funds, used some of the money to “win favor. From his predecessor, Dennis Williams, as he sat on the union’s board of directors. .
Union officials said Mr Williams, who was also recently sentenced to prison, later backed Mr Jones to succeed him, helping to secure Mr Jones’ ascension.