Federal UAW Investigation Sure Sounds Like It Was Trumped Up After Call For Gaza Ceasefire

Federal union monitor Neil Barofsky, who is in charge of keeping an eye on the United Auto Workers union, allegedly took issue with UAW President Shawn Fain calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and used his position to pressure Fain to change course. Drop Site News reports that Fain refused, potentially upsetting Barofsky enough to announce a new investigation into the union.

To understand how we got here, we first have to rewind a few years. In September 2020, former UAW President Dennis Williams pleaded guilty to conspiracy to embezzle union funds. Williams was the 15th person convicted in the Justice Department’s long-running investigation into union corruption and the second consecutive UAW president to earn a prison sentence.

In December of that year, the union cut a deal with prosecutors. In addition to paying a $1.5 million fine, the UAW agreed to be overseen by an independent monitor for six years and change its election process to allow members to directly elect their president. In the end, Barofsky was appointed the union’s monitor, and Fain later won the election to become the UAW’s new president.

Following his win, Fain went on to lead an incredibly successful strike against Detroit’s Big Three and then pulled off a surprise win when a Volkswagen factory in Tennessee voted to unionize. And yet, it wasn’t until the UAW formally came out in favor of a ceasefire that things reportedly got heated between Fain and Barofsky:

The move did not sit well with supporters of Israel’s war, among them Neil Barofsky, and he let Fain know about it directly. On December 14, two weeks after the UAW released its statement, Fain appeared on Capitol Hill for a press conference with members of Congress calling for a ceasefire. The evening before, according to a source familiar with the conversation, Barofsky called Fain and urged him to rethink the union position. Barofsky said that it had pained him to see the UAW’s wheel logo and anti-war protests where UAW members were present, and he told Fain there had been repeated instances of antisemitism at those protests. Barofsky told Fain he was not calling as the federal monitor, who has nearly unchecked power over the union, but merely in his personal capacity.

Fain told Barofsky, the source said, that the ceasefire resolution was in no way antisemitic or even pro-Palestinian, but simply an expression of the union’s desire for peace. Fain added that that it was impossible for the monitor to call the union president in a strictly personal capacity, given the power dynamic at play, but that the union intended to stand by its call for a ceasefire and he would be appearing at the press conference on Capitol Hill the next day. The event went off as planned.

Barofsky didn’t just call Fain, though. He also sent a letter to the UAW’s International Executive Board after the Anti-Defamation League “complained about the Union’s demand for a ceasefire in Gaza and in particular the actions of Local 7902 in support of same.” In his letter to the IEB, Barofsky wrote, “Although this issue is outside of the Monitor’s jurisdiction, we thought it was important to forward the message to the IEB given the serious concerns raised here.” He also admitted to previously pressuring Fain, saying, “For what it’s worth, as I previously shared with Shawn, similar concerns were raised directly to me shortly after the IEB issued its own ceasefire statement.”

Later that month, the IEB held its quarterly meeting, and this time, Barofsky joined remotely. When confronted with how inappropriate his behavior was, Barofsky doubled down, claiming the union had to listen to the ADL. Members of the board were reportedly shocked that he would continue to try to change the union’s mind about its call for a ceasefire. A few days later, the UAW’s lawyer sent Barofsky a letter calling him out on his overreach:

You called President Fain and introduced your conversation with President Fain as one that was ‘strictly on a personal level’ during which time you shared with President Fain your personal concerns about the Union’s position on the crisis in Gaza.

Your call to President Fain on an issue so blatantly outside of the Monitor’s jurisdiction was inappropriate as your Office holds disproportionate power over the UAW, and even a ‘strictly personal’ sharing of opinion implicitly implicates such power dynamic. Nonetheless, out of respect for you and the office of the Monitor, President Fain discussed the conversation with only those in his inner circle and chose not to escalate the improper exchange any further.

Six days after the union sent that letter, Barofsky announced he was opening an investigation into the union over a disagreement Fain had with the secretary treasurer. Barofsky said he wanted “any and all emails, text messages, and instant messages” sent between February 12 and February 23, which coincidentally happened to be about the same time the UAW was dealing with pressure to capitulate to the ADL’s demands.

It’s entirely possible the investigation is legitimate, but the timing sure is suspicious. Especially since Republicans recently held a hearing over claims of “rampant antisemitism” in unions that took particular aim at a pro-ceasefire UAW local. Barofsky has also announced that he plans to expand the scope of his investigation.

There’s a lot more to the story than what we could possibly hope to include here, so head on over to Drop Site News and give the whole thing a read. Also, if you like what you read, consider subscribing to support they good work they do over there, as well as independent journalism in general. If there’s one thing we desperately need right now, it’s more independent journalists with the resources to hold the powerful accountable.


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