Former UAW President Dennis Williams will serve 21 months in prison for conspiring with other union officials to embezzle money from the autoworkers union.
Williams, 68, becomes the first president of the UAW – which over the years had cultivated a reputation for integrity – sentenced to prison for his conduct as a union officer.
U.S. District Judge Paul Borman also fined Williams $10,000 and ordered him to make $132,000 in restitution to the UAW during a sentencing hearing held this week on Zoom. Borman says he will recommend Williams serve the sentence at a minimum-security prison in Mendota, CA.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Cares said during the hearing that Williams’ lavish tastes, which included extended stays at luxury resorts in Southern California, as well as meals, golf outings and expensive cigars and whiskey all paid for with union funds, opened a wide gulf between union members and the UAW’s top leadership.
“I am very angry about it. Everyone I’ve talked with is angry about it,” says Michael Cannon, a retired UAW member. The conduct of Williams and other high-ranking officers charged in the federal corruption probe led to alienation and bitterness in the union’s ranks, Cares says.
Williams was president of the UAW representing 400,000 active members and 580,000 retired members in more than 600 local unions across the U.S. from June 2014 to June 2018. Prior to serving as president, Williams was secretary-treasurer of the union from June 2010 through June 2014.
According to Williams, he was shocked as the investigation unfolded to learn top UAW officers he trusted were diverting money from training centers funded under union contracts. He also noted in a court filing that, under established UAW rules, he donated to charity more than $1 million in fees and compensation owed him personally for his services as a member of the Navistar Corp. board of directors, on which he served before becoming UAW president.
Williams insists he never shirked his duties as a top UAW leader. “I balanced the budget,” he says. “The membership grew, and I ended the two-tier wage system…The UAW was more than a job, it was a calling.”
However, the UAW now says its former president deserves time in prison. Williams has “rightfully been sentenced today for his crimes that put his personal and self-interest above that of our members,” according to a statement from the UAW.
Rory Gamble, the current UAW president who has served on the union’s top executive board since 2006 and was exonerated by federal prosecutors, says he was shocked by the corruption uncovered by investigators. “I am just dumbfounded by some of this behavior,” he says.
Williams is one of more than a dozen people, including former UAW President Gary Jones and ex-Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executives, who have been convicted in the scandal involving embezzlement, kickbacks, bribes and misuse of worker training funds.
Stellantis, the successor to FCA, has agreed to pay a $30 million fine to settle criminal charges against the company resulting from the federal investigation.
U.S. District Judge David Lawson is naming Neil Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor specializing in monitoring troubled institutions, as independent monitor over the UAW pursuant to the terms of a consent decree negotiated between the union and the Justice Department.
Barofsky (pictured above, left, in 2013) will provide oversight of the UAW for six years. He also will oversee, with the Department of Labor, a binding, secret-ballot vote by UAW members to determine whether to change the union's election method for UAW president and the other members of the UAW’s International Executive Board from the current delegate system to a direct election model. The vote will take place within six months.
The monitor will have no role in negotiations with employers under the consent decree.
Barofsky’s record as a prosecutor of financial crime earned him appointment by then-President George W. Bush as inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program put in place by Congress to help salvage the U.S. financial system and the U.S. auto industry in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008-2009.
The five-year probe of the UAW, which involved FBI, IRS and Department of Labor investigators, found no evidence of infiltration by organized crime, federal authorities maintain, but ample evidence of wrongdoing by union officials.