The fall of Dennis Williams seemed as inevitable as it was anticlimactic. Yesterday, August 27, Williams, who was president of the United Auto Workers during 2014-18, was charged in Detroit federal court with conspiracy to embezzle funds from the 400,000-member union for his own use, including $56,000 for housing and luxury travel. His immediate successor, Gary Jones, had pleaded guilty in June to embezzlement, racketeering and tax fraud related to his diversion of over $1 million in UAW funds. As Williams allegedly conspired with Jones in some of these thefts, he will have a hard time convincing a jury of his innocence. More than a dozen union officials and auto executives thus far have pleaded guilty as part of an ongoing probe of the union by the FBI, the IRS and the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.
Dennis Williams, now 67, was elected president of the Detroit-based UAW in June 2014 after serving a four-year stint as secretary-treasurer. As Union Corruption Update indicated at the time, Williams campaigned as a populist fighter who was “not afraid of confrontation.” He already had established his credentials among his union brothers during the Nineties when he helped lead a pair of strikes against Caterpillar Inc. His 2014 campaign for president displayed the same kind of populist fire. “Millionaires and billionaires are growing in their economic status but the common person is not,” he declared. “We can’t continue to allow the middle class to shrink.” Unfortunately, Williams himself allegedly pursued a vision of living rich – at the expense of dues-paying members.
A year ago, FBI agents raided workplaces and homes in four states for evidence of gross financial improprieties at the United Auto Workers and General Motors. Federal prosecutors by that time already had secured at least eight convictions of UAW and Chrysler officials (or family members) related to the disappearance of about $4.5 million in funds from a company-subsidized training center following the initial indictments in July 2017. The money functioned as bribes to UAW negotiators not to push certain demands during collective bargaining sessions. The raids served notice that the investigation had entered a new phase. Feds searched the Canton, Mich. home of Gary Jones and the Corona, Calif. home of former President Dennis Williams, plus the homes of several other UAW officials (including that of former Williams administrative assistant Amy Loasching), and the union’s conference center and spa in Onaway, Mich. The raids led to guilty pleas from UAW officials Joe Ashton, Michael Grimes, Jeff Pietrzyk, Vance Pearson and Nick Robinson for their roles in the theft of as much as $1.5 million in union assets since 2010. President Jones resigned his office in November, was charged in March, and pleaded guilty to various charges this June.
Dennis Williams thus represents a major piece of unfinished business. And the finish line appears imminent. The Justice Department yesterday filed charges against the former UAW president, accusing him of conspiring to embezzle union funds for such indulgences as vacation villas in Palm Springs, expensive dinners, premium cigars, and golf outings. He had been listed in court documents as “Official B,” but union officials subsequently confirmed that Williams is that official. Things don’t look good for him right now. Jones’ plea agreement indicate that Williams had urged dipping into union funds to personally benefit union officials.
UAW leaders, including current President Rory Gamble, are adamant that justice needs to be done. The union already has clawed back $56,000 that Williams had charged to the union for travel and housing; taken possession of a home it had built for Williams at the union’s Onaway resort; and reformed several of its financial practices. “Any violation of Mr. Williams’ oath of office and his responsibility to oversee our members and their sacred dues money should rightfully face criminal penalty,” said Gamble. “Today’s development is a sad day for UAW members.” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider likewise called the charges against Williams “further steps in our relentless effort to ensure that the over 400,000 men and women of the UAW have honest and ethical leadership.”
Postscript: On September 30, Williams pleaded guilty to conspiring with at least six other UAW officials to embezzle UAW funds for personal use. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.