Earlier this year, the United Auto Workers decided to sell its money-losing 1,000-acre resort and golf course. Now, while GM files for its IPO, new UAW leadership is pulling the resort off the market. Here's a look inside.
Built in 1970, the $33 million retreat located at the tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula includes the Walther and May Reuther Family Education Center, lodging for 261 people and an eternal flame in memory of Reuther, who died in a plane crash en route to the resort. Used mostly by the UAW for training conferences and family events, several well-appointed cabins dot the well-groomed grounds, including those given to former UAW presidents, and the centrally-located bar only serves beer made in union-represented breweries.
While the 261-room resort has the typical amenities one would expect from any of the other spas dotting Michigan's northern expanses — Olympic-sized swimming pool, sauna, workout rooms — it's the award-winning golf course that's been the main draw for years. Built under now-deceased former UAW President Stephen Yokich, the course has been consistently ranked among the top 100 public courses in the country.
The resort was built when the UAW was still in its ascendancy, and Reuther was a national political figure. The golf course Yokich added arrived just after the boom years of the late 1990s, when the UAW stared down General Motors in a two-month strike and its autoworking members enjoyed massive annual profit-sharing checks.
Since then, the UAW has been on the retreat, shrinking from 1.5 million members in 1979 to a meager 355,191 in 2009 as Detroit melted down. While the union still has $1.2 billion in assets, Black Lake has lost about $23 million over the past five years.
In January, then-UAW President Ron Gettelfinger announced the property was for sale, telling members: "We regret that current financial conditions require us to explore the possible sale of the property...the assets of the UAW belongs to the entire membership of our union."
But new UAW President Bob King took the resort off the market shortly after taking office in June. It's one of a number of steps — such as accusing Toyota of blocking the First Amendment rights of its workers to organize, or setting up a march for "jobs, justice and peace" in Detroit later this month — showing a more aggressive approach than his predecessors.
The UAW hasn't organized a foreign-owned U.S. plant it wasn't invited into since 1977, when workers at a Volkswagen factory in Pennsylvania went on strike. Back then, VW was paying below market wages; skilled workers got a bump from $7 an hour to $12 an hour. Today, the transplanted foreign firms pay close to what the UAW workers make, with similar benefits. Whereas new hires at Detroit plants will be offered far less, about $17 a hour.
Reversing three decades of declining union membership makes for one tall order, no matter how much access new members might get to a nice resort in northern Michigan.