The head of the United Auto Workers is taking a leave of absence, the powerful US union under a federal corruption probe announced Saturday.

Gary Jones asked to take leave following a vote by the union's executive board, the UAW said in a statement. The leave will begin Sunday.

The union, which has been waging high-stakes talks with the big US automakers, is being probed by the Justice Department.

One of the 12, Edward Robinson, is accused of conspiring to embezzle $1.5 million from the union for personal use, CNBC reported, adding that he has ties to Jones.

"The UAW is fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure our members have a brighter future. I do not want anything to distract from the mission," Jones said in the statement.

Last month the union negotiated a new contract with General Motors, after the longest automotive strike in the US in nearly 50 years.

This week the UAW said it reached a tentative labor agreement with Ford, and it plans contract talks with Fiat-Chrysler.