DETROIT — UAW President Gary Jones is taking a leave of absence as prosecutors in a widening corruption probe appear to be closing in on possible charges against him.
Rory Gamble, the vice president in charge of the UAW’s Ford Motor Co. department, will be acting president, the UAW said Saturday. Both changes are effective Sunday.
The union’s International Executive Board held an emergency meeting earlier Saturday in which Jones asked for the leave of absence, according to an email from Jones to union employees that was obtained by Automotive News.
“The UAW is fighting tooth and nail to ensure our members have a brighter future. I do not want anything to distract from the mission,” Jones said in a statement issued by the union. “I want to do what’s best for the members of this great union.”
Jones has been implicated in the federal corruption investigation that so far has resulted in 12 charges and 10 guilty pleas. His decision to go on paid leave comes two days after prosecutors accused a former top aide to Jones and six other officials of embezzling $1.5 million in union funds and filing false expense reports to conceal the wrongdoing.
One of the alleged co-conspirators is identified in public documents only as “UAW Official A.” That person is Jones, The Detroit News has reported, citing sources familiar with the case. Jones has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Jones did not attend Friday’s meeting of the UAW’s National Ford Council, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The council voted to send a tentative labor agreement with Ford to rank-and-file members for ratification.
Jones was named the union’s president in June 2018. The News, citing a source, said Jones has agreed to repay any salary received while on paid leave if he is convicted of a crime in connection to the corruption probe.
Gamble, in a statement, said he will remain focused on the union’s ongoing contract negotiations with the Detroit 3.
“Together throughout the last few months, we’ve achieved substantial victories for UAW members and we know that we have more work to do,” he said. “We want better health care coverage, better salaries and respect for our work. That will not change.”
On Thursday, Edward Robinson, who was head of a UAW regional community action program council, was charged with conspiracy to embezzle union funds and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Another one of Robinson’s accused co-conspirators, UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, has been charged and was placed on leave from the union in early October.
The latest complaint includes a number of potentially incriminating details about UAW Official A.
According to the complaint, Official A told Robinson “in or about” late 2017 they needed to “halt the cash embezzlement portion of the conspiracy because of the ongoing federal criminal investigation of the United Auto Workers union and because of a new UAW position being taken by UAW Official A.”
Jones was named the union’s president in June 2018.
Official A also promised to “take care of” one of Robinson’s relatives with a “sham job” if Robinson agreed to take sole responsibility for a portion of the embezzlement, according to the complaint. It also said Official A told Robinson in May 2019 he wished they “burned the records” related to the embezzlement scheme.
The UAW’s Solidarity House headquarters has been shuttered since July due to a fire in the union’s information technology department that also damaged adjacent public relations office space. Arson has been ruled out as a cause of the fire.
Pearson later told Robinson he’d get him a “burner phone” to avoid a federal wiretap, and that he should “get rid of” any incriminating evidence.
The complaint also notes that UAW Official A was in possession of more than $32,000 in cash at his personal residence on August 28. Jones’ home was raided that day, along with the homes of other UAW officials, and media reports quoted witnesses saying investigators counting cash.