Person

Dennis Williams

Nationality:

American

Occupation:

Labor Activism

Dennis Williams is a former president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), one of the largest organized labor groups in the United States and a member organization of the AFL-CIO. The union claims to represent more than 400,000 employees in the automotive, aerospace, agricultural equipment, and other industries, as well as more than 580,000 retired workers. Williams was the president of the UAW from 2014 to 2018 and the secretary-treasurer of the union from 2010 to 2014. [1] Throughout his tenure as a senior union executive, Williams was a stalwart supporter of the Democratic Party, particularly former President Barack Obama. [2]

During his presidency, Williams and more than a dozen other senior UAW leaders and associates were involved in a far-reaching, multi-year scheme to embezzle union funds for their own personal use. Williams and his co-conspirators spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-end restaurants, private villa reservations, golf course fees, cigars, alcohol, and other luxuries, all while attempting to write off the expenses as leadership conferences and training events. In May 2021, Williams was sentenced to just under two years in prison, ordered to pay over $15,000 to the IRS and more than $130,000 to the UAW as restitution, and made to forfeit a number of luxury items which he obtained through the embezzlement scheme. [3]

Life and Early Career

After serving in the United States Marine Corps, Dennis Williams took a job as a salvage welder. In 1977, he joined his local UAW chapter and started rising through the ranks, getting elected to the chapter bargaining committee and later serving as its chairman. By 1988, he was working on growing the union’s reach, becoming involved in contract negotiations and employee organizing across the country. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Williams held several regional leadership positions before his election as secretary-treasurer of the national union in June 2010. One of his main initiatives in this role was expanding the power of the UAW in the foreign-owned sector of the American auto industry. Four years later, Williams was elected as president of the union. [4]

UAW Presidency

Dennis Williams spent four years as the president of the UAW. He was also appointed as the chairman of the industrial union council within the AFL-CIO, the parent organization of the UAW. Williams retired in July 2018, with the AFL-CIO leadership praising his track record. In particular, the federation’s executive council cited his work on extending the influence of the UAW on foreign-owned auto manufacturers. At the time, the executive council described Williams as someone who was “always looking for new ways to win more of the pie for the hardworking men and women he represented.” [5]

However, the radical wing of the organized labor movement has criticized Williams’ tenure as a leader in the UAW. In May 2021, the World Socialist Web Site, a prominent hub for radical-left criticism of liberal institutions (including labor unions) published an article accusing him of numerous concessions to corporate interests throughout his career. According to the article, many negotiations which involved Williams or his subordinate UAW officials resulted in plant closures, wage cuts, and benefits reductions. [6]

Embezzlement Investigation

The first reports of formal inquiries into Williams emerged in the summer of 2018, when the Detroit News named him as the previously-unidentified UAW official who was being accused of attempting to illegally write off entertainment and travel expenses. In August 2019, federal agents raided his residence as part of an ongoing investigation into fraudulent financial activities by him and more than a dozen other prominent UAW officials and associates. Investigators seized a variety of luxury items including a set of custom-made golf clubs and other high-end golfing equipment. The Department of Justice (DOJ) eventually found that Williams and his co-conspirators had been spending union funds, including dues paid by rank-and-file members, on months-long stays at private resorts, golf course fees, and other luxuries such as cigars and alcohol. They had also been writing off their lavish spending as expenses for “training and leadership conferences” so they could obtain reimbursement from the union. In reality, at least some of these events had existed only on paper to conceal the scale of the ongoing embezzlement. [7] [8]

In the lead-up to his sentencing, Williams and his legal team attempted to minimize the extent of his criminal activities, play up his health problems and perceived record of charitable actions, and shift the blame to other UAW officials, most notably Gary Jones, his successor as the union’s president. Jones had cooperated with federal law enforcement and stated that Williams and his co-conspirators had pressured him into approving fraudulent reimbursements for their use of UAW funds. In turn, Williams’ lawyers attempted to portray Jones as the main culprit behind the billing scheme, claiming that Williams was not informed on the specifics of the spending and that Jones had convinced Williams that the reimbursements were legal. Williams’ attorney also touted his poor health, reputational damage within the labor movement, and charitable contributions to worker benefits funds as reasons to reduce his punishment. [9] In May 2021, the Williams was sentenced to just under two years in prison, as well as nearly $150,000 in restitution payments to the IRS and the UAW. [10] However, Williams ended up serving less than a year in prison and was released in July 2022. [11]

Williams’ crimes, as well as the government’s investigation of him, prompted a backlash from radical-left organized labor activists. A May 2021 article from the WSWS claimed that Williams’ fall from grace “has done nothing to alter the character” of the UAW, which WSWS describes as “a direct tool of corporate management.” The WSWS argues that both the UAW and its parent organization, the AFL-CIO, have repeatedly made concessions when it comes to bargaining and striking, while also developing closer ties to the corporations whose alleged oppression the institutional labor movement claims to oppose. [12]

Political Views and Activity

Obama Political Career

Dennis Williams backed President Barack Obama throughout his political career. In a January 2016 speech, Obama indicated that Williams had supported him since he was a relatively unknown United States Senate candidate. Williams also campaigned to keep the White House under Democratic Party control during the 2016 election cycle. He has identified corporations and the wealthy as a threat to the wellbeing of the middle class. [13] [14]

Trump Presidency

Williams was a public opponent of President Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign, calling him an “enemy” of the middle class and describing him as an example of “what’s wrong with this country.” [15] At the same time, he indicated that the UAW shared Trump’s opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and that union leaders were willing to work with Trump on trade issues. [16] Williams also welcomed Trump’s push for tariffs on imported cars, arguing that such a policy would benefit American auto workers. [17]

References

  1. “Former International UAW President Dennis Williams Sentenced to Prison for Embezzling Union Funds.” The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Michigan. May 11, 2021. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.justice.gov/usao-edmi/pr/former-international-uaw-president-dennis-williams-sentenced-prison-embezzling-union ^
  2. Brent Snavely. “Obama recalls UAW president’s early political support.” Detroit Free Press. January 20, 2016. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2016/01/20/obama-recalls-uaw-presidents-early-political-support/79079380/ ^
  3. [1]“Former International UAW President Dennis Williams Sentenced to Prison for Embezzling Union Funds.” The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Michigan. May 11, 2021. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.justice.gov/usao-edmi/pr/former-international-uaw-president-dennis-williams-sentenced-prison-embezzling-union ^
  4. “Dennis Williams.” OMICS Biography. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://biography.omicsonline.org/united-states-of-america/international-union-united-automobile-aerospace-and-agricultural-implement-workers-of-am/dennis-williams-200493 ^
  5. [1]“On the Retirement of Dennis Williams.” AFL-CIO. July 25, 2018. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://aflcio.org/about/leadership/statements/retirement-dennis-williams ^
  6. Jerry White. “The sentencing of former UAW President Dennis Williams and the case for rank-and-file committees.” World Socialist Website. May 5, 2021. Accessed December 9, 2021. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/05/06/pers-m06.html ^
  7. Robert Snell. “Williams shifts blame, points fingers at UAW brothers in push for light sentence.” The Detroit News. May 4, 2021. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/2021/05/04/dennis-williams-points-fingers-uaw-brothers-ahead-sentencing/4935616001/ ^
  8. “Former International UAW President Dennis Williams Sentenced to Prison for Embezzling Union Funds.” The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Michigan. May 11, 2021. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.justice.gov/usao-edmi/pr/former-international-uaw-president-dennis-williams-sentenced-prison-embezzling-union ^
  9. Robert Snell. “Williams shifts blame, points fingers at UAW brothers in push for light sentence.” The Detroit News. May 4, 2021. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/2021/05/04/dennis-williams-points-fingers-uaw-brothers-ahead-sentencing/4935616001/ ^
  10. “Former International UAW President Dennis Williams Sentenced to Prison for Embezzling Union Funds.” The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Michigan. May 11, 2021. Accessed December 9, 2022.

    https://www.justice.gov/usao-edmi/pr/former-international-uaw-president-dennis-williams-sentenced-prison-embezzling-union ^

  11. “Former UAW presidents convicted of corruption get out of prison early.” Crain’s Detroit Business. July 20, 2022. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.crainsdetroit.com/news/former-uaw-presidents-gary-jones-and-dennis-williams-get-out-prison-early ^
  12. Jerry White. “The sentencing of former UAW President Dennis Williams and the case for rank-and-file committees.” World Socialist Website. May 5, 2021. Accessed December 9, 2021. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/05/06/pers-m06.html ^
  13. Brent Snavely. “Obama recalls UAW president’s early political support.” Detroit Free Press. January 20, 2016. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2016/01/20/obama-recalls-uaw-presidents-early-political-support/79079380/ ^
  14. Bernie Woodall. “UAW elects Dennis Williams as president.” Reuters. June 4, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/article/autos-uaw-election-idCNL1N0OL1UH20140604 ^
  15.  David Muller. “UAW chief Dennis Williams calls Donald Trump ‘enemy’ of middle class.” Michigan Live. August 20, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.mlive.com/auto/2015/08/uaw_chief_dennis_williams_call.html ^
  16.  John D. Stoll. “UAW President Says Union Agrees With Donald Trump’s View on Nafta.” The Wall Street Journal. November 10, 2016. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/uaw-president-says-union-agrees-with-trumps-view-on-nafta-1478807638 ^
  17. Phoebe Wall Howard. “UAW President Dennis Williams praises Trump’s tariff approach.” Detroit Free Press. May 24, 2018. Accessed December 9, 2022. https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2018/05/24/uaw-president-trump-tariffs/640518002/ ^
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