Shuler revealed during an interview on Freakonomics Radio, published online Wednesday, that AFL-CIO officials had internally discussed severing ties with the UAW but ultimately decided against it after the U.S. Department of Justice got involved. The UAW last year entered into a federal consent decree that installed an independent watchdog and proposed changes to the way the union elects leaders.
Shuler’s remarks show that labor leaders were more worried than they let on as the UAW scandal crested, harboring concerns that the bad publicity could damage the reputation of all unions. The UAW is one of 57 affilated unions of the labor federation that collectively represents more than 12 million workers.
Podcast host Stephen Dubner pressed Shuler—who rarely strays off message—about her muted responses to the UAW scandal and why she wasn’t “a little bit more ticked off.” She didn’t hold back.
“Don’t mistake my diplomacy for covering up my outrage,” Shuler said. “I am disgusted.”
“And unfortunately, when a scandal like that happens, it takes people’s attention away from the fact that the labor movement fights for all working people, not just our members,” she added.
When Dubner asked Schuler directly if she considered expelling the UAW, she responded: “We’ve had internal discussions.”
“At the time when it was happening there was a debate around it,” Shuler continued. “But as far as what we knew at the time and what the remedy was, and then the government stepped in, so … we left it to the government to do the oversight.”
Rules for expulsion from the labor federation are governed by members of the AFL-CIO executive council, who reserve the remedy for the most heinous transgressions. In 1957, the federation booted the Teamsters for 30 years after its leaders refused to appear before an internal ethics committee. The union rejoined in 1987 but was placed under intense government oversight for its ties to organized crime; it voluntarily quit the AFL-CIO in 2005, though incoming Teamsters President Sean O’Brien has said he may be open to rejoining.
AFL-CIO spokeswoman Carolyn Bobb, in a statement, sought to soften Shuler’s remarks, saying there were never formal discussions on the executive council about expelling the union. “We are proud to have the UAW as an affiliate,” she said.
New UAW President Ray Curry’s administration “has put in place rigorous new controls to restore the trust and confidence of UAW members because that’s really what’s important,” Bobb said.
A UAW spokesman didn’t respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
The corruption scandal, which centered on misuse and embezzlement of member dues, led to criminal convictions for former Presidents Dennis Williams and Gary Jones and more than a dozen other officials.
Leadership of the union is still in flux. Cindy Estrada and Terry Dittes, heads of the former Fiat-Chrysler—now Stellantis—and General Motors divisions, respectively, both announced their retirements in the past two weeks.
The UAW in 2023 will have to negotiate another round of contracts with the three Detroit automakers as the companies ramp up production of electric vehicles.