HAZELWOOD — The United Auto Workers is abolishing its western regional office, headquartered here, in the wake of embezzlement allegations against top union officials.
UAW Region 5 covers 17 states from Missouri to Hawaii. It will be merged into regional offices based in Lebanon, Tennessee, and Lincolnshire, Illinois, the union said in a statement Friday.
“It’s a lot to take in,” said Iysha Fant-Newell, who works at the General Motors plant in Wentzville. “Are they going to hold them to what they did?”
The UAW has been rocked in recent months by accusations that some of its top officials have embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. Vance Pearson of St. Charles, the former head of Region 5, has been charged in the case. Former UAW President Gary Jones, who lived in O’Fallon, Missouri, was director of the region before Pearson. Federal agents raided Jones’ Detroit-area home last summer, but he has not been charged in the case. Both men have resigned from the union.
President Rory Gamble said in the statement on Friday the two regions that will take over Region 5 have been managed prudently.
The UAW is still working on how to divide up Region 5 between the other two offices, he said.
Region 5 represents 37,000 workers in the auto parts, aerospace and beverage container industries. It also represents some student workers in universities.
The union will keep an office in St. Louis because of the high number of members it has in the area, spokesman Brian Rothenberg said.
About 4,500 union members work at the GM plant in Wentzville. That UAW branch, Local 2250, also represents 4,000 retirees.
St. Louis-area union officials on Friday said they did not expect the move to have a large impact on Local 2250.
Darin Gilley, financial secretary for the local, said that Region 5 provides training opportunities and sends representatives from the UAW International to deal with issues such as grievances, but is not involved in everyday operations there.
Glenn Kage, president of Local 2250, said the merger is “not that big a deal” for the local chapter.
“Everything that we possibly can, we handle on our own,” he said.
The embezzlement accusations have centered, in part, on Region 5 conferences held in Palm Springs, California.
More than $600,000 in UAW money paid to Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel was used to pay debts by union officials at area businesses, including restaurants, a golf resort, cigar shop and rental properties, between 2014 and 2017, the government alleged in court records.
Investigators uncovered a receipt for a New Year’s Eve 2016 meal totaling more than $6,000, including four bottles of champagne for $1,760. They said there was evidence of a “culture of alcohol” in the senior ranks.
Jones’ lawyer has said that all expenses were submitted in detail and were not questioned by the UAW accounting department or the executive board.
The embezzlement allegations are part of a widening federal probe into corruption at the union. Allegations also include bribery with money paid from the Fiat Chrysler-UAW joint training center.
Ten people with ties to the UAW have been charged in the investigation. Eight have pleaded guilty, including two former vice presidents and the widow of another. Separately, three people who worked at Fiat Chrysler have been convicted.
Post-Dispatch reporter Annika Merrilees contributed to this report.