DETROIT — The UAW is eliminating its largest geographical region as part of its cleanup from the fallout of a federal investigation that exposed a lengthy pattern of corruption within the region’s past leadership.
Region 5, which covers 17 states in the western and southwestern U.S., will be merged into the adjacent regions 4 and 8 early next year, the union said Friday.
Region 5’s most recent director, Vance Pearson, resigned last month after being charged with money laundering and embezzling union funds. His predecessor was Gary Jones, who resigned last month as president of the union after being implicated in the corruption scandal, though he has not been charged with any crimes.
The union’s constitution allows for the International Executive Board to combine regions when a vacancy emerges on the board, as was the case when Pearson resigned. The move will leave the UAW with eight regions, down from as many as 18 when its membership was much larger.
“Today’s action was taken in the interest of maintaining continuity in representing and servicing our members,” Rory Gamble, whom the board elected Thursday to finish Jones’ term, said in a statement. “Both Regions 4 and 8 have been prudently managed, cover wide geographic territories and have proven experience effectively representing UAW members.”
Gamble said the consolidations will have no effect on regional staffing, international union programming or the operation of local unions. The change, first reported by The Detroit News, will take effect Feb. 28.
As Region 5 director from 2014 through 2018, Jones misappropriated UAW funds to pay for lavish meals, expensive liquor, cigars and lengthy stays at private villas for himself and other union officials, the UAW board said last month as it sought to remove him from office. Jones disguised the expenses as being related to an annual leadership conference in Palm Springs, Calif., and also allowed his daughter to stay in a villa for free after one of the conferences, the board said.
FBI agents raided Pearson’s home as well as the Region 5 office near St. Louis in August. The homes of Jones and former President Dennis Williams also were raided.
Aside from the corruption allegations, Region 5 has been weakened by the shutdowns of many of the assembly plants within its boundaries. Among those closed since 2005: General Motors plants in Oklahoma City, Shreveport, La., and Fremont, Calif.; a Ford Motor Co. plant in Hazelwood, Mo.; and two Chrysler plants in Fenton, Mo.