The United Auto Workers is many things to many people. To some, it's the reason why all of our manufacturing hasn't been shipped over to China. To others, UAW added costs are the reason why American cars can't compete with imports. Whatever your opinion, the facts are that the UAW is not nearly as strong as it once was. Back in 1979 the UAW claimed 1.5 million members on its rosters. In 2008 that number shrank to just 431,000 souls.
Obviously, something's got to give. And the UAW did give a little, agreeing to partially fund its Voluntary Employees' Beneficiary Associations (VEBAs) with GM and Chrysler shares (as opposed to cash) when both automakers went bankrupt in 2009. Even more obviously, that's just not enough.
Meet the UAW's Black Lake compound. It sits on just over 1,000 acres in Onaway, Michigan. The main lodge was built back in the 1930s by a Detroit advertising executive. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball spent their honeymoon there. Notorious ex-boxer, Union buster and Henry Ford's right hand man, Harry Bennett was once late to a bargaining session because he was vacationing at the Black Lake. Bennett even showed photos to the UAW folks. UAW leader Walter Reuther replied, "after the revolution we will own that place."
And in 1967, that's exactly what happened. Purchased by the UAW to be a family education center, Black Lake was even given a world-class golf course in 2000 (ranked #34 in the world by Golf Digest). Trouble is, since 2005 Black Lake has lost $23 million. Obviously, with the state of not just the UAW but American auto making in general, this sort of extravagance won't stand. Says current UAW President Ron Gettlefinger, "We regret that current financial conditions require us to explore the possible sale of the property." The real stumbling block is Michigan's severely depressed real estate market, which might make selling Black Lake a less than profitable endeavor.
[Source: The Detroit News | Image: Black Lake Golf Club]