Damage control must be order of the day for UAW

Revelations of the avarice and arrogance could not have come at a worse time for the United Auto Workers union, which is locking horns with the Big Three automakers over the next labor contract.

To say that the UAW’s credibility has suffered a setback is to downplay the seriousness of former union Vice President Norwood Jewell’s guilty plea to breaking federal labor laws.

Consider this opening paragraph of a compelling, mindboggling story Tuesday in the Detroit News:

“Former United Auto Workers Vice President Norwood Jewell betrayed blue-collar workers by pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler executives so he could live like a ‘big shot’ and ‘fat cat,’ federal prosecutors said Tuesday.”

To back up their portrayal of a labor union leader gone wild, prosecutors revealed photographs of the glamorous vacation spots and valuable gifts Jewell received from Fiat Chrysler executives trying to tilt labor negotiations in the automaker’s favor, the Detroit News reported.

To repeat: Chrysler tried to tilt labor negotiations in its favor and found a willing accomplice.

But it isn’t just Jewell who believed that being a UAW executive gave one potentate status.

Consider: The union spent more than $1 million in recent years at tour golf courses and resorts frequented by UAW officials in Palm Springs, Calif.

But what makes the former union vice president’s crime all the more egregious was that the money that enriched him was supposed to be spent training workers.

According to the News, the list of illegal benefits purchased with the funds includes a $2,182 shotgun; $8,927 for a three-bedroom villa with a private pool and hot tub in Palm Springs; and, a $25,065 “decadent” party with strolling models lighting labor leaders’ cigars and wine bottles featuring Jewell’s name on the label.

The former UAW executive also spent dues paid by union members on another three-bedroom villa and a pool in the desert oasis.

Union culture

It should be clear by now that it isn’t just Jewell who’s on trial, but the culture of a major union that enabled a former veep and other executives to use their positions for personal gain.

Therefore, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman should heed prosecutors and send Jewell to prison for 15 months.

“Through his actions, Jewell undermined and betrayed the confidence and trust the UAW’s members had placed in him to serve as their sworn representative in negotiations with Fiat Chrysler,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey wrote in a sentencing memo. “If that alone were not bad enough, Jewell’s actions also eroded public confidence in our country’s collective bargaining system and sullied the reputations of all honest trade unionists in the UAW.”

That said, the actions of Fiat Chrysler’s late chief executive officer, Sergio Marchionne, cannot be ignored.

According to the Detroit News, Fiat Chrysler executives had a broader plan to keep UAW leaders “fat, dumb and happy” and to wring concessions favoring the automaker, according to the government.

“Rather than the concerns of his membership, it is apparent Jewell was most concerned with fancy meals, rounds of golf, and other perquisites of being at the highest level of the UAW’s leadership team,” federal prosecutor Gardey wrote.

Here’s insult to the injury suffered by the UAW’s rank-and-file as a result of the scandal: Jewell’s lawyer compared his client to the captain of the Titanic in asking the judge not to impose a prison sentence.

“Norwood Jewell as ‘captain of the ship’ has accepted full responsibility for his actions and for not doing enough to monitor his subordinates’ behaviors and misdeeds,” Atty. Michael Manley wrote in a sentencing memo Monday. “Many things have been said and written about Jewell’s role in this vast culture and the way business was conducted between the UAW and the various auto companies. Some of it true, some of it not.

“Whatever the court’s decision, Jewell, as an honorable leader, is prepared to go down with the ship that the government has effectively sunk.”

Manley portrayed the former UAW leader as a victim of a corrupt culture within the union.

“The lavish expenditures, the fine cigars, the rounds of golf, the steakhouse dinners – those things were commonplace long before Jewell got to FCA,” Manley wrote.

How’s that for a public indictment of the United Auto Workers. Damage control must be the order of the day for the current UAW leadership.