United Auto Workers President Gary Jones is taking a leave of absence following new revelations in the scandal that has rocked the union, long one of most influential in the U.S., during the past two years.
Jones’ temporary departure was approved by a vote of the union’s Executive Board. It will be effective Sunday, Nov. 3.
“The UAW is fighting tooth and nail to ensure our members have a brighter future. I do not want anything to distract from the mission. I want to do what’s best for the members of this great union,” Jones, in a statement, that accompanied the announcement of his decision to take a leave of absence.
Vice President Rory Gamble, who negotiated the recently ratified Ford agreement, will serve as acting president and assume full responsibility for the president’s office, the union revealed in a statement issued after a conference call among members of the UAW’s top executive board on Saturday morning.
Gamble said the UAW would continue to fight for its members every single day.
“Together throughout the last few months, we’ve achieved substantial victories for UAW members and we know that we have more work to do. We want better health care coverage, better salaries and respect for our work. That will not change,” he said.
Brian Rothenberg, UAW director of communication, could not say if there had been a vote to oust Jones, who has been under increasing pressure since the FBI raided the UAW president’s home in suburban Detroit in late August.
In subsequent court filings, federal prosecutors and officials from the U.S. Department of Labor reported finding $30,000 in cash and golf equipment purchased with money from the UAW’s treasury.
In addition two of Jones’ top aides, Vance Pearson, who replaced Jones as head of UAW Region 5 covering the western United States, and Edward “Nick” Robinson, the head of the union’s Political Action Committee in Region 5, have been charged with federal crimes for allegedly embezzling money from the union’s general funds and its political funds.
Pearson, a resident of Missouri, took a leave of absence from his duties as a member of the union’s executive board in September after being charged by federal prosecutors from Eastern District of Michigan.
Jones has not been charged with any crimes.
But in a new court filing this past week, federal prosecutors said that Robinson met with Pearson and “UAW official A,” who has been identified by several sources as Jones, in an abortive effort to cover up the embezzlement, which included writing phony invoices to make it look like the money was used for legitimate union business.
During the meeting, this past summer Robinson, Pearson and “Union Official A” discussed destroying documents, utilizing “burner” phones to evade government surveillance and obtaining employment for one of Robinson’s relatives to insure his silence, according to federal court filings.
Jones’ decision to step aside comes just as the union is in the midst of negotiating new labor contract with General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V., covering more than 125,000 union members.
The union concluded the GM contract late last month after a 40-day strike and reached a tentative agreement with Ford early last week. The contract has been submitted to Ford’s 55,000 union workers in the U.S. for ratification.
Rothenberg said negotiations with FCA will move into their final phase after the Ford ratification vote is completed on Nov. 15.