A federal indictment last week may have dealt a fatal blow to the UAW's fight to remain credible with a divided and cynical labor force.
Charges were levied against Fiat Chrysler's head of labor relations, Al Iacobelli, and Monica Morgan, the widow of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield, for allegedly siphoning off funds from the union's training center for themselves. Holiefield was implicated but could not be charged because he died in 2015.
Data from the Department of Labor show that UAW membership has been slowly growing since it hit a nadir in 2009 of 355,000 workers. In 2016, membership reached 416,000, which is still a significant drop from 2002, when there were 701,000 members.
Despite those gains, which may have more to do with a booming auto industry than with any strength in the union, UAW members are no longer aligned with leadership. One glaring piece of evidence: the fact that heavily unionized Michigan went red in November, voting for a Republican president for the first time in 28 years, despite the fact that the UAW backed Hillary Clinton for the job.
A scandal such as this calls into question the quality of negotiating the UAW has done on behalf of its FCA workers.
Union leadership knows this. In a letter to members this week, UAW President Dennis Williams said members should know it was impossible for Holiefield to influence negotiations in 2011.
That didn't mitigate anyone's anger.
"So you mean to tell me two lead negotiators for both the UAW and Chrysler were in cahoots with each other and it didn't have any sort of impact on contract negotiations?" one UAW member wrote in response to the letter posted on Facebook. "Do you think we're stupid?"
Union workers deserve better than this. It is time for the UAW to take a hard look at how it chooses its leaders and look for ways to better represent the voice of the people it serves.