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Union Boss Quietly Negotiating Deal With GM While Embroiled In Million Dollar Corruption Investigation

By  Molly Prince
United Auto Workers who are employed at the General Motors Co. Flint Assembly plant hold signs and react as workers drive out of the plant as they go on strike
Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images

A high-ranking United Auto Workers (UAW) official is quietly assisting in the negotiations between General Motors Co. (GM) and the workers’ union despite facing a host of federal charges, including embezzlement, money laundering, and conspiracy.

UAW Regional 5 Director Vance Pearson was advising the bargaining team over the weekend in Detroit, Michigan, as the union attempted to settle an impending strike between its members and GM. Only days earlier, Pearson was indicted by a federal prosecutor on charges of embezzling union funds, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy, according to The Detroit News.

Pearson has been keeping a low profile during the negotiations. After a reporter approached him on Sunday and inquired whether he was, in fact, Pearson, he deceptively replied, “no, ma’am.”

The senior officer, however, was photographed walking into the UAW-GM negotiation meeting, and was later confirmed to be in attendance by Rich LeTourneau, shop chairman of Local 2209, which represents thousands of workers at a separate GM plant in Indiana. Roughly 200 local UAW union leaders in total attended Sunday’s meeting, which ultimately failed to come to a consensus.

UAW called on its members to strike following the unsuccessful bargaining over the weekend. The strike, which kicked off at 11:59 P.M. on Sunday night, is the first work stoppage in America’s automotive industry in over a decade.

Accordingly, nearly 50,000 union members walked out of the more than 50 GM facilities across nine states. Negotiations are reportedly still ongoing in an attempt meet a bevy of UAW demands, including increased hourly wages and a clearer path for temporary workers to permanent employment.

“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in his country,” LeTourneau responded when The Detroit News asked about Pearson’s attendance at the meeting despite the slew of charges.

The 40-page complaint filed against Pearson on Thursday outlines a years-long pattern of corruption involving other high-ranking UAW officials. The criminal case alleges union leaders spent upwards of $1 million in member dues on California villas, clothes, cigars, steakhouse dinners, golf clubs and apparel, rounds of golf at prestigious clubs, and high-end alcohol such as Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne, which sells at $400 per bottle.

In addition to Pearson, five other unnamed individuals — one former and four current UAW senior officials — were alleged to be complicit in the embezzlement scheme. While federal authorities refrained from naming the union leaders, sources revealed to The Detroit News that the individuals include UAW President Gary Jones and former President Dennis Williams.

“It increases the likelihood that the government will come after the union with a RICO charge,” University of Michigan Professor Erik Gordon told The Detroit News. “The union cannot defend itself on the basis that there were some renegade bad apples.”

“You’ve got a former president. You’ve got a sitting president,” he added. “[And] you’ve got the union as a whole that has aggressively defended the sitting president.”

“GM is outraged and deeply concerned by the conduct of union officials as uncovered by the government’s investigation and the expanding charges revealed today,” GM issued in a statement on Thursday. “These serious allegations represent a stunning abuse of power and trust. There is no excuse for union officials to enrich themselves at the expense of the union membership they represent.”

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