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Let Them Play Golf!

It is true that the UAW has powerful protectors in the Obama administration but that may not be enough to fully cushion the upcoming blows. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In the government’s proposed restructuring of GM and Chrysler, the UAW has come away with big victories. Veteran workers will continue to earn an average $28 an hour, several dollars more than workers in many foreign-owned U.S. car plants. And the union’s health care trusts will own 55% of Chrysler and 39% of GM.

Creditors of both companies have complained the UAW is getting a sweet deal. GM has offered bondholders just a 10% stake in exchange for at least $24 billion in debt.

But the union’s ability to use its ownership stakes to protect workers will be limited. The Chrysler trust will have one seat on Chrysler’s board, but that member will have a duty to protect the fund’s financial interests, not the union’s.

And the UAW won’t be able to strike against Chrysler for six years. (The same will likely be true at GM.) Moreover, at least for now, the Obama team is disinclined to block GM’s plans to shift operations from the U.S. to lower wage countries like Mexico, South Korea, and China.

In fact things are so rough that the UAW’s mammoth assets — some $1.2 billion — are now coming under intense scrutiny. While the UAW faces potentially crippling deficits in its benefit funds, members may begin to wonder about money tied up elsewhere:

The UAW’s most notable asset is the Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center, which includes the Black Lake Golf Club and 1,000 heavily forested acres in Onaway, Mich.

The union bought the property in 1967. It included a hunting lodge once used by auto executives and celebrities, including Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who honeymooned there in 1940.

The UAW named its new property after its longtime president, whose ashes were scattered there following his death in 1970.

The Onaway site was envisioned as a place to train Detroit workers at week-long conferences. After a renovation in the 1990s, the property has a gym with two full-sized basketball courts, an Olympic-size indoor pool, exercise facilities, table tennis and pool tables, a sauna, beaches, trails for hiking and biking, sports fields and a boat-launch ramp.

The center offers courses on leadership, political action and civil rights, hosting about 10,000 visitors annually.

In 2000, at the height of the SUV boom, the union commissioned the $6.7 million golf course. Named the No. 2 “Best New Upscale Public Course” in North America that year, it’s ranked 34th on Golf Digest’s current list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.

But the resort has been a drain on the union, losing an estimated $23 million in the past five years and forcing the UAW to borrow to keep it afloat. Given the union’s current troubles, it has become a sore point for many members.

UAW members and retirees can golf at a discount, but according to retiree and union dissident Gregg Shotwell, “It’s more designed for the upper echelon in the UAW.” He says, “We’re supporting a luxury that doesn’t add value to the union.”

“I heard the golf course is spectacular,” adds 40-year-old Ed Kasprisin, who has been laid off from GM’s Lordstown, Ohio, plant. He says he took a weeklong course at the education center in 2002 and never saw the course. “Is that a necessity in these times? Probably not,” he says.

Little wonder that no UAW spokesperson would comment for the article, is it?

If this seems bizarrely out-of-touch, sort of Louis XIV-like indifference to the little people (ah the members!) you are merely catching on to the realities of Big Labor finances. No wonder they are looking to corral more members via card check to replenish their coffers. With hundreds of thousands of new members, all paying dues, they might be able to take a chunk out of that $23M golf-course deficit.



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