But auto manufacturing jobs continue to disappear as companies add automation and shift passenger car production outside the U.S. Asian and European automakers and suppliers, which employ more than half the autoworkers in this country, have kept unions out of U.S. plants.
Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University, said diversifying into gambling and higher education can only take the UAW so far. Somehow, it must demonstrate continued relevance in the manufacturing sector.
"They need to make some major strides organizing within the industry," Masters said.
While the damage of the unfolding scandal shouldn't be underestimated, organizers say the union has always demonstrated resilience -- despite conflict among members, layoffs and the 2009 bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors.
The UAW, in its attempt to organize manufacturing plants this year, was crushed twice by a 2-1 ratio. Anti-union materials showed images of what appeared to be a post-apocalyptic Detroit and warned of what a UAW presence could bring.
In July, just weeks before a scheduled union vote at the Nissan plant in Mississippi, federal investigators indicted Al Iacobelli, former Fiat Chrysler vice president of labor relations, and Monica Morgan, widow of General Holiefield, former UAW vice president. Millions of dollars earmarked for UAW worker training was spent on unauthorized purchases including a $365,000 Ferrari, two solid gold fountain pens valued at $35,700, a pool and outdoor spa at Iacobelli's mansion.
Iacobelli retired in 2015 before to the start of contract negotiations. Investigators said Holiefield, who died in March 2015 from pancreatic cancer, and Morgan skimmed more than $1 million.
Daniel Lemisch, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, has expanded the investigation to look at evidence of similar misuse of joint training funds at the UAW's programs with Ford and General Motors.
The UAW says it is fully cooperating with the FBI in the training money investigation.
Even if the investigation finds nothing more, the timing was bad.
In November, just days before the failed union vote at Fuyao Glass America in Moraine, Ohio, reports emerged that federal investigators requested records from UAW and management officials responsible for joint training funds at Ford and GM.
Management at the Chinese-owned Fuyao Glass, used the corruption investigation to discourage workers from voting for UAW representation.
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