Amid COVID-19 concerns and the continuing fallout from a scandal that left a dozen union officials facing prison terms, the United Auto Workers scheduled a meeting of the Stellantis Council, which is made up of local union officers and bargaining chairmen.
The meeting is set for at beachside resort in Florida for mid-October, raising some eyebrows.
While a regular feature of the union’s internal activity for years, such meetings have come under scrutiny from federal investigators during a wide-ranging probe of union and labor relations departments in the auto industry.
Prosecutors found throughout the years, the conferences often served as cover for some extravagant spending by top union officers, who used union funds for lavish meals, golf and luxury rentals. Nonetheless, the UAW defended the conferences, which will be held Oct. 11 through Oct. 15.
UAW defends meeting plans
“The UAW Constitution provides for each national intra-corporation bargaining locals in our union to form councils like the UAW Stellantis Council. These councils hold meetings with delegates from each Local Union that are included in the council to discuss issues that are important to the membership and to hear reports from the International Union and the Local Unions,” the UAW said in an emailed statement.
“The UAW Stellantis Council, like other councils, have rotated the location these meetings are held to the various regions in the UAW. After holding the last several council meetings in Detroit, the delegates of the UAW Stellantis Council voted to hold the next meeting outside of Detroit. The location selected was one that the UAW has used in the past.”
The statement also noted in response to the recent scandals any expenditures will be carefully reviewed both inside the union and by the independent monitor named as part of the settlement of a racketeering suit brought against the union by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The UAW is sensitive to issues of the past and the International Executive Board has instituted stringent controls and oversight on meeting expenditures, travel and auditing,” the UAW statement said.
“In addition, the UAW now has enhanced internal and external auditing of expenditures, an ombudsman hotline for confidential complaints, an Ethics officer to review any expenditure concerns that arise and under the terms of the DOJ settlement a Court appointed monitor.”
Call goes out as COVID concerns grow
The official “Call” for the conference was emailed to local union officers. It also specified that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic anyone attending the meeting of the Stellantis Council must wear a face mask. Florida has been overwhelmed by COVID cases and in recent days has had the highest death rate of any state in union as the virus surged.
In fact, COVID continues to be a major concern in the auto industry with most automakers re-instating mask mandates, which had been relaxed earlier, in their plants where employees find it difficult to maintain social distancing. Vaccines, though, are not mandatory.
Past practices put spotlight on resort
The UAW leadership also came under fire on social media for their choice of hotels, The Trade Winds Island Grand Resort and the Rum Fish Beach Resort in St Pete Beach Florida. The main hotel for the conference, the Trade Winds Grand Resort, is described as being a 10-minute walk from Upham Beach. The hotel also has three restaurants and a spa.
“Rum Fish Beach Resort by TradeWinds is described on its website is the ultimate aquatic oasis, located on the sugar white sands of St. Pete Beach, Florida. Dive into the new Florida coastal vibe and enjoy expansive views from the newly added balconies in our Gulf Front Suites.”
“The leadership is still living large off the memberships money and putting cliques in position,” noted in a social media post by a UAW member.
In the past, the council meetings also have been used to round up support for the so-called Administration Caucus, which federal prosecutors have described as running the union as “one party” entity.
The court-appointed monitor, Neil Barofsky, has set up a referendum on whether union members want to change the UAW’s constitution and allow members to vote on top officers. UAW officers, including the president, are now selected by delegates to the quadrennial Constitutional Convention. The UAW present hierarchy opposed any changes to the current system. The monitor has indicated he will be mailing ballots to individual union members in mid-October and will control all aspect of the vote, including the count, which will be held in November.