Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The UAW golfed. While carmakers soak up $17 billion in taxpayer bailout funds and demand more for their ailing industry, United Auto Workers bosses have wasted tens of millions of their workers’ dues on gold-plated resorts and rotten investments. The labor organization’s money-losing golf compound is just the tip of the iceberg.
Last week on my blog, I noted that the UAW owns and operates Black Lake Golf Course — a "championship caliber" course opened in 2000 that’s part of a larger "family education center" and retreat nestled in 1,000 acres of property in Onaway, Mich. Spearheaded by former UAW president Steve Yokich, the resort also includes "a beautiful gym with two full-sized basketball courts, an Olympic-size indoor pool, exercise and weight room, table-tennis and pool tables, a sauna, beaches, walking and bike trails, softball and soccer fields and a boat launch ramp." Like everything else we’re subsidizing these days, the UAW’s playground is a money pit. The Detroit Free Press reported earlier this year that the golf course (valued at $6 million) and education center (valued at $27 million) have together lost $23 million over the past five years. While membership in the union has plummeted, the UAW retains assets worth $1.2 billion.
Curious about how the UAW will be spending my money and yours, I sifted through the union’s most recent annual report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (which you can find at unionreports.gov). Who knew hitting the links was so central to the business of making cars?
In May and November 2007, the UAW forked over nearly $53,000 for union staff meetings at the Thousand Hills Golf Resort in Branson, Mo. In September 2007, the UAW dropped another $5,000 at the Lakes of Taylor Golf Club in Taylor, Mich., and another $9,000 at the Thunderbird Hills Golf Club in Huron, Ohio. Another bill for $5,772 showed up for the Branson, Mo., golf resort. On Oct. 26, 2007, the union spent $5,000 on another "golf outing" in Detroit. In May and June 2007, UAW bosses spent nearly $11,000 on a golf tournament and related expenses at the Hawthorne Hill Country Club in Lima, Ohio. And in April 2007, the UAW spent $12,000 for a charity golf sponsorship in Dearborn, Mich. In August 2007, the UAW paid nearly $10,000 to its for-profit Black Lake golf course operator, UBG, for something itemized as "Golf 2007 Summer School." UBG had nearly $4.4 million worth of outstanding loans from the union. Another for-profit entity that runs the education center, UBE, had nearly $20 million in outstanding loans from the union.
Perhaps, the union bosses might argue, they need all this fresh air and exercise to clear their heads in order to make wise financial decisions on behalf of their workers. If only. UAW management has proven to be a money-squandering corruptocracy with faux blue-collar trim. Former UAW head Yokich, who built the Black Lake black hole, is also responsible for bidding $9.75 million of workers’ funds in a botched bid to purchase the gated La Mancha Resort Village in Palm Springs. The 100-room walled resort with spas, poolside massages and a "croquet lawn lit for night use" was on the verge of bankruptcy with $5.2 million in debt. Despite outrage from rank-and-file union members who thought one gold-plated golf resort was quite enough, leaders defended the La Mancha bid because, as union spokesman Paul Krell put it, "’You can never tell if you are going to become snowbound." Always putting the workers first!
That deal didn’t go through, but the UAW’s quixotic dalliance with a failed airline did. In February 2000, the union poured $14.7 million into Pro Air, a Detroit start-up airline that, well, didn’t get off the ground. Plagued by safety problems, the feds shuttered the company less than a year later. The union didn’t fare much better in its venture with a liberal radio network. In 1996, union heavies got the bright idea to invest $5 million in United Broadcasting Network, a left-wing precursor to Air America that the UAW hoped to use to spread its corporate-bashing propaganda. They shelled out for a $2 million, state-of-the-art studio in Detroit and incurred years of losses of a reported $75,000 a month before closing the network down in 2003.
And while the UAW and carmakers cry poor, they’ve operated massive joint funds for years that have paid for lavish items such as multi-million-dollar NASCAR racer sponsorships and Las Vegas junkets. The dire economic downturn hasn’t changed the behavior of profligate union bigs at the front office or the shop floor. Local Detroit TV station WDIV recently caught local UAW bosses Ron Seroka and Jim Modzelewski — both of whom make six-figure salaries — on tape squandering thousands of hours of overtime on such important labor security matters as on-the-clock beer runs and bowling tournaments.
At least the groveling Big Three CEOs gave up their corporate jets. Where’s the public flogging for the greed-infested UAW fat cats reaching into our pockets to keep them afloat?