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United Auto Workers president gives year-end review

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    Dennis Williams, president of the United Auto Workers, reassured the rank and file that a recent scandal was a one-off case and not an indictment of the union's credibility.

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The president of the United Auto Workers reassured the rank and file — and the public at large — on Wednesday that a recent scandal at the Fiat Chrysler-United Auto Workers joint training center was a one-off case and not an indictment of the union’s credibility.

He also vented about Ford Motor Co. and the Trump Administration for what he sees as lost opportunities for American manufacturing — particularly because of recently passed tax legislation.

Dennis Williams, who has led the UAW since 2014, spoke with reporters to provide a year-end account of the union, and address a wide range of questions. Many of those questions centered on a federal investigation into how more than $4 million in worker training and education funds was allegedly stolen by a handful of UAW and Fiat Chrysler officials to pay for fancy cars, luxury items, and home improvements.

A former Fiat Chrysler executive, the wife of a United Auto Workers leader, and two others are charged in what prosecutors say was a scheme to launder money through a fake Detroit-area hospice center, according to a federal court filing.

“Over the last several months we have been under a magnifying glass, and rightfully so,” Mr. Williams said, noting that the money in question did not come from the UAW but nevertheless the allegations do implicate some top union officials. 

“This is not acceptable, and the action of the few individuals should not be held against the entire union and its membership,” he said.

The federal probe has since expanded to examine whether similar rackets were happening at General Motors and Ford.

Mr. Williams, who said he has not been interviewed by authorities, reiterated that the UAW is cooperating with the investigation and said he doesn’t see a lingering cloud of anyone in the organization. 

But far from being on the defensive, Mr. Williams also took to task Republicans in Congress for their recently passed tax legislation, which he said will undercut the middle class. He accused President Donald Trump of abandoning his rhetoric on pushing U.S. companies to stop shifting product outside our borders in favor of investing in their domestic manufacturing.

Mr. Williams singled out Ford in particular. The Dearborn-based automaker recently reversed course on a January announcement that its Flat Rock, Mich., plant — located about 40 miles north of Toledo — would be building an electric vehicle within the next four years. Instead, Ford will build that vehicle in Mexico. The change of plans was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, and later confirmed by the automaker.

“I’m not happy with Ford, their decision,” Mr. Williams said. “I think that we’re missing a huge opportunity in this country, and I think President Trump, who ran on this, has not said a word about it. It’s funny, you go ahead and campaign on an issue and after you win, quit talking about it.”

There were also reports that Ford will stop building its Fusion midsize sedan in Mexico — possibly in favor of shifting production to China. The company has denied that. However, on Wednesday’s conference call, Mr. Williams said Ford has confirmed a production change for the Fusion. He didn’t elaborate.

The Fusion was recently built at the Flat Rock plant, albeit for only about three years before production was moved exclusively to Mexico. 

Mr. Williams also briefly addressed his upcoming retirement. At 64, Mr. Williams is too old to seek another term under the union’s bylaws. Union leadership has nominated Gary Jones, the director of UAW’s sprawling 17-state Region 5. 

“He’s very well-rounded, he’s very familiar with the state of Michigan, he has his daughter and grandkids up here,” Mr. Williams said. “We feel very confident that Gary will do a fantastic job.”

The election will be held next summer.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com419-724-6134, or on Twitter @TyrelLinkhorn.

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