The turmoil at the top of the United Auto Workers continues as the union suspended Richard Rankin, one of the union’s regional directors, following an independent investigation by an outside law firm into charges that had described as “workplace harassment.”
The move comes just ahead of the union’s move to hire former Obama administration official Wilma Liebman as the union’s first-ever external Ethics Officer. Liebman is labor policy expert who served as the Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board under President Barack Obama from 2009-2011. She also served on the NLRB under former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
The move is designed to ensure the organization is “operating at the highest level of integrity on their behalf,” said UAW President Rory Gamble, who has repeatedly vowed to clean up the corruption within the union, in the statement announcing Liebman’s appointment.
The UAW’s been beset recently by at best questionable and at worst illegal activities by its senior leadership, including its former President Gary Jones, who was recently charged with two felonies involving the misuse of membership dues.
The charges have come as part of a lengthy investigation by federal prosecutors, resulting in 14 officers being charged with crimes, 13 of whom have pleaded guilty. Jones is rumored to be readying to offer up a guilty plea.
Rankin’s troubles only serve to highlight the difficulties the union is facing; however, its current international board has been moving to take action.
“After careful review by the UAW International Executive Board into allegations against UAW 2B Regional Director Richard Rankin, the International Executive Board voted to file Article 30 charges,” the union said in a statement disclosing the charges.
The remaining members of the UAW’s executive board later voted to suspend Rankin from his duties as the director of the region responsible for union’s activities in Ohio and Indiana, which includes plants operated by several major companies including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler and Navistar.
The UAW said, “The report, from an outside third-party investigator, substantiated allegations of workplace harassment, which were brought forward by members in Region 2B. The Board received the report Friday and after review have filed Article 30 charges in response to it.
Under the UAW Constitution, Article 30 charges provide for a member trial of an elected officer and could remove them from office yet.
Rankin, the youngest member of the union’s executive board, told the Detroit News the charges were “baseless,” and he intends to fight them, adding he was shocked by the move to file Article 30 charges against him. He was accused of harassing female subordinates.
“I look forward to clearing my name and expect to be fully vindicated,” he told the News. The issues with Rankin are just the latest suggesting that the problems at the UAW are larger than the organization can solve on their own — something officials vehemently disagree with.
However, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who has been leading the multi-agency investigation into the UAW, hinted that the union could be placed under government supervision due to the lack of internal controls during the press conference announcing charges against former UAW President Gary Jones. He added that the union is cooperating with investigators, but that the level of assistance is below what they expect.
Recently, Gamble agreed to meet with Schneider to discuss the union’s compliance and reform efforts, even going so far as to retain prominent New York law firm, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton to help it through the talks as well as with its ongoing efforts to change the organization. It’s unclear if Liebman’s hiring is a direct result of the law firm’s influence.
Liebman will work externally from the union, and will have the responsibility and authority, along with the Ethics Ombudsman, to review and investigate alleged financial misconduct or ethics violations that are reported through the new created Ethics Hotline, which is available starting today.
She will report her findings to the appropriate UAW officials and to the IEB and, potentially offer recommendations for corrective action. A report on discipline or corrective action taken will be made back to the Ethics Officer.
“My job, first and foremost, will be to ensure UAW leaders and employees operate with the utmost integrity, and that any unethical conduct is promptly investigated and properly acted upon,” Liebman said.
In addition to appointing Liebman and the establishment to the new hotline, the UAW also created an Ethics Advisory committee comprised of rank-and-file members as well as members of the UAW Public Review board to cull feedback from the membership about additional changes and reforms. The organization also announced “new and more robust financial and accounting reviews” to prevent the issues that the union is now facing.
Michael Strong contributed to this article.