Autoworkers Union Keeps $6 Million Golf Course for Members at $33 Million Lakeside Retreat
Friday , December 26, 2008
The United Auto Workers may be out of the hole now that President Bush has approved a $17 billion bailout of the U.S. auto industry, but the union isn't out of the bunker just yet.
Even as the industry struggles with massive losses, the UAW brass continue to own and operate a $33 million lakeside retreat in Michigan, complete with a $6.4 million designer golf course. And it's costing them millions each year.
The UAW, known more for its strikes than its slices, hosts seminars and junkets at the Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center in Onaway, Mich., which is nestled on "1,000 heavily forested acres" on Michigan's Black Lake, according to its Web site.
But the Black Lake club and retreat, which are among the union's biggest fixed assets, have lost $23 million in the past five years alone, a heavy albatross around the union's neck as it tries to manage a multibillion-dollar pension plan crisis.
Critics call it a resort for union leaders that wastes money from union dues.
"It's their members' money that they're spending on this thing," said Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts, a union watchdog group. "The union has bigger issues at hand than managing a golf course."
Managing the course may become a burden for the union. The UAW covers costs for the Reuther Center from the interest it earns on its strike fund, according to tax documents, but massive losses in the past five years have forced the union to make heavy loans to keep the center afloat. Critics call it a poor investment for a group with over $1.25 billion in assets.
"Unions certainly have had real estate investments in the past, but investments are supposed to make money, not bleed money," said Wilson.
The UAW did not return calls from FOXNews.com, and a spokesman could not be reached for comment.
The Reuther Center is open 11 months of the year to offer courses on leadership, political action, civil rights and other topics; it hosts nearly 10,000 visitors annually. The UAW says it sends workers there to "learn, experience unionism (and) commit to labor's cause," according to their Web site.
The center was purchased in 1967 and underwent massive renovations in the '90s under the careful watch of former UAW president Steve Yokich. "Today's Black Lake might not exist if not for Steve Yokich," said union member Bob Reidt, whom Yokich appointed as Black Lake's director. "Yokich is responsible for rebuilding Black Lake."
The UAW erected a monument to its longtime president Walter Reuther — the center's namesake — which bears an inscription of his words: "There is no greater calling than to serve your brother. There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well."
But Reuther, who died in a plane crash en route to the center in 1970, never knew the satisfaction of Black Lake's "well-groomed fairways," a course that Michigan Golf Magazine called a "stunning visual marvel."
Union members can play golf at discounted rates on one of the country's top 100 courses, designed in 2000 by famed course architect Rees Jones at a cost of $6 million.
The center has a storied history. Reuther had his ashes scattered at the site, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz honeymooned there in 1940, well before it was bought by the UAW.
"It's funny that they call it an education center — it's a resort," said Wilson. "If I was a union member, I would prefer that they rented out a room at the Ramada Inn."