Gary Jones, the former president of the United Auto Workers, was sentenced to 28 months in prison for his role in a sweeping scandal that has badly damaged the UAW.
In a brief appearance before Judge Paul Borman, Jones apologized for his conduct and asked for mercy. Before Borman imposed the sentence, federal prosecutors noted Jones provided critical information leading to the conviction of his predecessor Dennis Williams and other ongoing investigations.
Jones, who served as UAW President for a little more than a year, is the second union president sentenced to prison. Former UAW President Dennis Williams was sentenced to 21 months in prison for his part in the scandal that has wrecked the union’s reputation and undermined its influence in organizing and politics.
An unexpected selection for top job
Jones was a surprise choice in the autumn of 2017 for union president when he was selected by the administration caucus as its candidate for president at 2018 Constitutional Convention. The caucus has run the union for more than 70 years and its endorsement was tantamount for election.
However, Jones came to job with a thin resume never having handled major negotiations with key employers or handled other critical chores such as leading major political campaigns, organizing drives or acting as the liaison with key UAW allies both in the U.S. or abroad.
By contrast, Jones’ immediate predecessor, Williams, handled critical contract negotiations with Caterpillar as well as agricultural equipment companies such as New Holland, which is controlled by Fiat. Williams also traveled to Japan to negotiate with executives from Mitsubishi and served for four years as Secretary Treasurer.
Williams’ predecessor, Bob King, had been UAW vice president several years, acted as an unofficial spokesman for the UAW in a variety of public forums, and served as the union’s liaison to political activists and environmental groups.
Jones moves up the ladder
Jones had none of the experience of Williams or King prior to his selection by the caucus and wasn’t very well know either inside or outside the union. He had been appointed to the UAW staff by Steve Yokich. Jones has a degree in accounting, and he held various positions in the union’s accounting departments.
His loyalty was rewarded with an appointment as an assistant director in UAW Region 5 in St. Louis. The assistant director’s job can be used as a steppingstone to the UAW’s top executive board and Jones was named director and a board member in 2010.
Jones, however, was ambitious despite his lack of a resume and began a campaign to secure the administration caucus endorsement from Williams. Norwood Jewel, a former UAW vice president who pleaded guilty to violating federal labor law in 2018, acknowledged in federal court he tried to the campaign for the union presidency but ultimately concluded he didn’t have the resources to compete.
By contrast, Jones treated Williams to long stays some of the top resorts in Southern California by nominally disguising the trips as union business conferences. He also arranged lavish dinners, stocked with premium liquor as well as rounds of golf at top courses, according to federal court records.
While hunting and fishing are usually thought of as the favored hobbies of UAW members, Yokich, who led the union during the 1990s, was an avid golfer and union staffers looking for better assignment or to curry favor with the UAW’s top leadership took up the game as well.
Investigators already looking
By the time, Jones moved into the UAW President’s office in June 2018, the union was being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor. Federal investigators had already turned up evidence of serious corruption among union officers and staff.
Jones promised to clean up the corruption, but federal authorities had their doubts since an informant accused Jones and his close lieutenants of corruption going back to his days in St. Louis.
The informant ultimately agreed to wear a wire and record Jones’ conversation with those key staffers. The informer’s tapes were damning and ultimately led a search of Jones house in Canton Township, Michigan, where FBI agents found thousands of dollars in cash, expensive liquor and golf equipment.
The cash and material found in Jones house in the summer of 2019 was only the tip of the iceberg as federal prosecutors ultimately charged Jones with stealing more than $1.5 million from the union and converting to his personal use.
The search came just as the UAW was opening critical negotiations with General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler. Jones made an appearance at the opening ceremony at all three car makers but soon turned the negotiations over to Terry Dittes, head of the GM department, Rory Gamble, head of the union’s Ford department, and Cindy Estrada, head of the FCA department.
By the time, the negotiations with Detroit’s automakers intensified in September 2019, union executive board members and staff members were in open revolt against Jones’ nominal leadership. With Jones under cloud, Dittes took over management of the often bitter 40-day strike against GM. By early November, Jones, facing federal indictment, asked for a leave of absence and he resigned a month later. He was later expelled from the union.