UAW President Shawn Fain under investigation by federal monitor

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Shawn Fain, who led the United Auto Workers union in its strike against all three unionized American automakers last fall, is under investigation by a federal monitor overseeing the union.

The news of the investigations and competing allegations come at a bad time for the union as it campaigns to organize non-union auto plants around the country. It dredges up past union corruption issues that sent previous union officials to prison, an issue that helped Fain win a narrow upset victory to lead the union last year.

And it gives management of the nonunion auto plants another talking point when trying to convince their employers to vote against UAW representation. So far the union has won a significant victory at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, but lost a vote at a Mercedes plant in Alabama.

Competing allegations

Two other top officials in the union have launched allegations of misconduct against Fain, who has previously accused them of misconduct. Officials are exploring the charges.

Fain said he had to strip many duties from Margaret Mock, the union’s Secretary Treasurer and second highest ranking officer, because she “engaged in misconduct while carrying out her financial oversight responsibilities,” according to the report by Neil Barofsky, a lawyer appointed by a court as federal monitor.

And Fain said he had to take away the duty of overseeing relations with automaker Stellantis from UAW Vice President Rich Boyer due to “’dereliction of duty’ in connection with certain collective bargaining issues,” according to the report. Details of the allegations were not included in the report.

But both Mock and Boyer, who ran on the same slate of candidates as Fain in the union elections just over a year ago, say that the actions against them were not justified.

Barofsky wrote that Mock filed “allegations of her own” against Fain and that his actions against her were in “retaliation for her refusal or reluctance to authorize certain expenditures of funds at the request of and/or for the benefit of those in the president’s office.” Barofsky said that Boyer charged Fain acted against him for “refusing to engage in acts of financial misconduct to benefit others.”

The details of Mock and Boyer’s allegations, respectively, against Fain were also not included in the report.

Fain’s response

Fain issued a statement late Monday defending actions he took that he said sparked the investigations.

“Taking our union in a new direction means sometimes you have to rock the boat, and that upsets some people who want to keep the status quo, but our membership expects better and deserves better than the old business as usual,” he said in the statement. “We encourage the monitor to investigate whatever claims are brought to their office, because we know what they’ll find: a UAW leadership committed to serving the membership, and running a democratic union. We’re staying focused on winning record contracts, growing our union, and fighting for economic and social justice on and off the job.”

The union agreed to a consent decree in 2021 to create the position for a federal monitor to settle federal corruption charges after past union officials, including two past presidents went to prison. The settlement also set up the first popular union election among members for the union’s leadership, rather than having leaders chosen by delegates to union conventions. That opened the door for Fain’s victory.

Barofsky, who had previously served as Inspector General for TARP, the federal fund that helped bail out major banks and two major automakers during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. He said in his report that while the union had generally cooperated with his office in the past, it has been less forthcoming with these probes, writing that it “put roadblocks that are interfering with the monitor’s ability to promptly and credibly conduct them.” He said it has only produced a fraction of the documents his office requested.

In the last year Fain has gone from a relatively obscure challenger for the union’s top job to one of the highest profile union officials in the country, after he led the unprecedented three simultaneous strikes against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis last fall. That strike resulted in record wage and other gains for more than 140,000 union members at the three automakers.

Fain was a guest of President Joe Biden at the State of the Union speech, where Biden recognized and praised him. Biden also joined Fain on the picket line during last year’s auto strike, the first sitting president to visit a picket line. Fain, a former critic of both former President Donald Trump and the Biden administration, has become a vocal supporter of Biden, who has been endorsed by the UAW.

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