DETROIT — The UAW on Tuesday named Wilma Liebman, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, as its first independent ethics officer in the latest attempt by UAW President Rory Gamble to root out corruption and avoid a potential federal takeover.
Liebman, 69, was first appointed to the NLRB in 1997 and served as chairman under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011.
In her new role, Liebman will work with third-party company Exiger LLC, which the union has tapped to serve as its new ethics ombudsman. Exiger workers will screen and investigate tips placed to a new ethics hotline, which goes live today, the union said.
Gamble first announced the search for an ombudsman and independent ethics officer in November, shortly after taking over for ex-President Gary Jones, who is expected to plead guilty to charges of embezzlement next month as part of a yearslong federal corruption investigation.
“While our country and union navigate the difficult challenges of this pandemic, today’s actions mark an important step in the progress of our ethics reform agenda and underline our unwavering pledge to our members that their union is committed to operating at the highest level of integrity on their behalf,” Gamble said in a statement.
“We know that in hiring Ms. Liebman to lead this important work, we are gaining an expert on labor law, widely respected for her knowledge and integrity, who will set a high bar for our union in the years to come. Also, with the infrastructure we are putting in place to ensure members can report financial or ethics complaints on a confidential basis, we are installing critical pieces to receive and investigate information about alleged wrongdoing.”
Liebman, in a statement, said she was honored to be named to the post.
“My job, first and foremost, will be to ensure UAW leaders and employees operate with the utmost integrity, and that any unethical conduct is promptly investigated and properly acted upon,” she said.
“The UAW has a proud history, and it is critical that its members have full confidence in their union’s strong future. I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens.”
Liebman’s appointment comes as federal prosecutors continue to dangle the possibility of placing the UAW into federal receivership through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Gamble last week indicated for the first time he’d be open to meeting with federal investigators to discuss the ongoing probe, which to date has resulted in charges against 14 people and 13 guilty pleas. U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, the lead prosecutor in the investigation, repeatedly said the union’s reform efforts don’t go far enough and that leaders have not cooperated as much as he’d like.
“We have to talk about real reforms, genuine reforms,” Schneider said earlier this month. “We’re not really seeing that right now.”
He suggested then that the union should consider direct election of officers as a meaningful step toward rooting out corruption.
Schneider has repeatedly said that RICO charges, similar to federal actions taken against the Teamsters union in the late 1980s, remain on the table.
“It’s not the people working the jobs, it’s the leadership,” Schneider said. “That is a real indicator there’s a larger problem here, and that’s why we haven’t taken government oversight off the table. That could be appropriate when you have a situation where it’s embedded, systemic, long-term corruption.”
Gamble, attempting to convince the feds the union can clean itself up from within, also has instituted a number of financial reform efforts, including the banning of all charitable contributions from UAW joint program centers, vendors or employers to any charities run or controlled by UAW officials.
The training centers have been at the center of a number of charges. Prosecutors allege former UAW officials misspent funds earmarked for those centers on cigars, champagne and other lavish goods.
Gamble also said the UAW would discontinue the purchase of promotional items using joint program funds, so-called “trinkets and trash” that prosecutors have been investigating to find out whether officials have received kickbacks related to their purchase. Gamble also plans to implement a policy “that will enhance enforcement against those who have been found guilty of misusing funds and our commitment to seek recovery of all misused or misappropriated funds.”
The UAW on Tuesday also announced that it would create an Ethics Advisory Committee that includes rank-and-file members as well as members of the union’s Public Review Board. It planned to release more details about the committee later this year.
Meanwhile, the UAW and other U.S. unions this week were given another three months to file their annual financial disclosures with the U.S. Department of Labor because of the coronavirus pandemic.