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Federal authorities investigate UAW President Shawn Fain

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President of the United Auto Workers union, Shawn Fain.


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CNN

Shawn Fain, who led the United Auto Workers (UAW) in its strike against all three unionized American automakers last fall, is currently under investigation by a federal watchdog that oversees the union.

News of the investigation and the conflicting allegations comes at an inopportune time for the union as it works to organize nonunion auto plants across the country and digs up past corruption cases that have sent former union officials to prison, an issue that helped Fain win a narrow upset victory to lead the union last year.

And it gives management at nonunion auto plants another argument when it comes to convincing employers to vote against UAW representation. So far, the union has won a clear victory at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee but lost a vote at a Mercedes plant in Alabama.

Two other top union officials have made allegations against Fain, who previously accused them of misconduct. Officials are investigating the allegations.

Fain said he had to remove many of the duties of Margaret Mock, the union’s secretary, treasurer and second-highest official, because she was “guilty of misconduct in the performance of her financial oversight duties,” according to the report by Neil Barofsky, a court-appointed attorney for the federal oversight board.

And Fain said he had to remove UAW Vice President Rich Boyer from his job overseeing relations with automaker Stellantis because of “a dereliction of duty” related to certain collective bargaining issues, the report said. The report did not provide details of the allegations.

But both Mock and Boyer, who ran on the same list as Fain in the union elections just over a year ago, say the actions against them were unjustified.

Barofsky wrote that Mock had made “her own allegations” against Fain and that his actions against her were in “retaliation for her refusal or unwillingness to authorize certain expenditures at the request of and/or for the benefit of employees of the President’s Office.” Barofsky said Boyer accused Fain of taking action against him because he “refused to engage in financial misconduct for the benefit of others.”

The details of Mock and Boyer’s allegations against Fain were also not included in the report.

Fain issued a statement late Monday defending the actions he took that he said sparked the investigation.

“As we take our union in a new direction, sometimes we have to stir up trouble, and that angers some people who want to maintain the status quo, but our members expect more and deserve more than the old ‘business as usual,'” he said in the statement. “We encourage the Monitor to investigate all complaints brought to his office because we know what he will find: a UAW leadership committed to serving members and running a democratic union. We remain focused on winning record contracts, growing our union and fighting for economic and social justice in the workplace and in private.”

The union agreed to a settlement in 2021 to create the position of a federal overseer to investigate federal corruption allegations after former union officials, including two former presidents, went to prison. The settlement also allowed for the first general election of union leadership among members, rather than having the leadership elected by delegates at union meetings. That opened the door for Fain’s victory.

Barofsky previously served as inspector general for the TARP program, the government fund that helped bail out major banks and two major automakers during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. In his report, he said that while the union had generally cooperated with his office in the past, it had been less forthcoming in these investigations. He wrote that the union had “created hurdles that impede the overseer’s ability to conduct these investigations promptly and credibly.” He said the union had provided only a fraction of the documents his office had requested.

Over the past year, Fain has gone from being a relatively unknown challenger for the union’s top job to one of the most high-profile union officials in the country after leading the unprecedented three simultaneous strikes against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis last fall. That strike The collective bargaining negotiations resulted in record wages and other improvements for the more than 140,000 union members of the three automakers.

Fain was a guest of President Joe Biden during his State of the Union address, where Biden acknowledged and praised him. Biden also joined Fain during last year’s auto strike, becoming the first sitting president to visit a picket line. Fain, a former critic of both former President Donald Trump and the Biden administration, has become a vocal supporter of Biden, backed by the UAW.