UAW union president takes leave of absence as corruption probe expands

NEW YORK — The president of the United Auto Workers, Gary Jones, will take a leave of absence amid a growing scandal involving the union and its finances.

Jones requested the leave of absence following a vote by the executive board, the UAW said Saturday in a statement. Vice President Rory Gamble, head of the union’s Ford department, will serve as interim president starting Sunday.

“The UAW is fighting tooth and nail to ensure our members have a brighter future. I do not want anything to distract from the mission. I want to do what’s best for the members of this great union,” Jones said in the statement.

Jones is stepping aside as federal prosecutors continue a probe into allegations union leaders embezzled funds and accepted bribes, including from at least one automaker, Fiat Chrysler.

Jones has not been charged in the scandal, and both he and the UAW have pledged full cooperation with the probe.

A lawyer for Jones did not immediately respond Saturday to a request for comment.

Agents from the FBI, IRS and Labor Department searched Jones’ home in August, an FBI spokesman confirmed to CNN.

Nine people have pleaded guilty in the scandal, including former union officials, the widow of one union official, and employees at Fiat Chrysler who dealt with the union. Fiat Chrysler has declined to comment.

A top union official, Vance Pearson, was the first active union official to be indicted earlier this year. Federal prosecutors charged him with “conspiring with other UAW officials to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars in union money for their own personal benefit.” His attorney Scott Rosenblum told CNN Business in email Saturday that Pearson will plead not guilty.

The probe comes as the UAW, one of the most powerful labor groups in the country, negotiates new contracts with the nation’s unionized automakers.

Nearly 50,000 GM workers were on strike for nearly six weeks until members ratified a new deal and started returning to work last week. GM disclosed that it expects the strike cost it $2.9 billion.

Negotiators for the UAW and Ford announced this week they had reached a tentative contract agreement, potentially avoiding another costly walkout. The deal needs to be ratified by the 55,000 union members at Ford before it can go into effect.

Once the Ford ratification vote is complete, the union will turn to the third unionized US automaker, Fiat Chrysler. Contract talks there could be complicated by Fiat Chrysler’s plan to merge with Peugeot owner PSA Group, a $48 billion deal that was announced Thursday.

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