Feds' probe into UAW president reveals stunning new details

In recent months, the United Auto Workers (UAW), led by its president, Shawn Fain, has been making headway in empowering American auto workers. 

Building off their landmark contract negotiations with Detroit’s Big Three automakers in November 2023, the union expanded its organizing reach, targeting every non-union shop with an action plan to bolster support and recognition for the union.

The most significant advances recently involved the southern factories of foreign automakers such as Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen. While the UAW’s campaign successfully organized Volkswagen’s Chatanooga, Tennessee plant, the unsuccessful campaign at Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama plant exposed the effects of political influence and accusations of union-busting efforts that became an international issue. 

The union’s activities have gained national attention and drew lawmakers’ support, including President Biden, who traveled to the picket line to show his support. In January, Fain blessed the president with his endorsement in the upcoming presidential election, citing his support for their cause.

However, an extensive investigation led by a federal court-appointed monitor has led to serious allegations against Fain, the union’s charismatic and outspoken leader, as new details reveal murkier deeds and doings in the shadows behind his newfound oversized spotlight.  

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with UAW president Shawn Fain (L) during a visit to a United Auto Workers (UAW) phone bank in the metropolitan Detroit area, Michigan on February 1, 2024. 

MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

Family Ties

In filings disclosed on Monday, July 8, federal court-appointed monitor Neil Barofsky disclosed that he was probing allegations that the UAW president retaliated against a vice president for refusing actions that would have benefitted his domestic partner and her sister. 

Barofsky was appointed as an independent monitor by U.S. District Judge David Lawson after a major corruption scandal came to light in 2020. Several former union leaders, including two former UAW presidents and several auto executives, were handed federal convictions.

Within the fine print of the document, Fain is accused of stripping the VP of his authority over the UAW’s Stallantis department in May. Barofsky adds that he received complaints from union sources alleging that Fain made the dramatic move in retaliation for the VPs refusal to take actions that would have benefitted his partner and her sister. 

Additionally, Barofsky noted that he was investigating allegations regarding a UAW regional director misusing the union’s funds, where the director allegedly used a company credit card for personal purchases and “misappropriated Union property.”

The new allegations came to light as the monitor sought to gain access to internal union documents related to an investigation into alleged financial misconduct that began in February. 

Related: Feds probe UAW president over alleged retaliation

Trouble piles up

Mr. Barofsky’s investigation initially looked into the actions of Mr. Fain against the union’s secretary-treasurer, Margaret Mock, who accused the union leader of stripping her authority in retaliation for not authorizing funds for Fain’s office.

The new filing reflects the investigative roadblocks that the monitor faces, as much of the tension between Barofsky and the UAW revolved around documents that the UAW has withheld. 

In the filing, Barofsky noted that the union gave him only 18 documents of the thousands he requested by early April, more than a month into his investigation. As a bargaining tactic, the monitor suggested that the union streamline the process by searching its vast records for documents using a set of specific search terms. 

The initial list of search terms provided by Barofsky generated 216,044 documents, but the filing noted that the union wouldn’t provide all of the requested documents. Barofsky then agreed to a revised list of search terms to generate 116,646 documents; however, court filings note that the union has surrendered about 70,000 of the requested documents.

As per Barofsky, the UAW refused to surrender papers without the “ability to review documents protected by the attorney-client privilege or concerning collective bargaining strategy.”

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The union hits back

In its own court filing filed on July 3, the UAW argued that Barofsky asked for too much in his investigation, noting that the monitor made “a massively broad electronic search request” for documents “irrelevant to the investigation.”

“More importantly, the documents include information that is either protected by the attorney-client privilege or work-product doctrine or otherwise reveals highly sensitive collective bargaining strategy,” the UAW argued in its filing.

The tone of the messaging is a complete 180-degree spin from earlier attitudes about Barofsky’s investigation. In a statement to the Detroit Free Press in June 2024, Fain took Barofsky’s investigation as a minor speed bump.

“Taking our union in a new direction means sometimes you have to rock the boat, and that upsets people who want to keep the status quo, but our membership expects better and deserves better than the old business as usual,” Fain said.

“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.”

TheStreet reached out to the UAW for comment.

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