Training center in UAW scandal has big price tag, but will its role change?

If you’re in the market for 259,959 square feet of flex industrial, office and warehouse space that’s “centrally located in the heart of metro Detroit’s automotive epicenter” and you don’t blush at a $20 million price tag, then you might be in luck.



a sign in front of a flag: The UAW-Chrysler Training Center building on Nov. 11, 2020, in Warren. The facility is scheduled to stop operations in its current form for the year.


© Antranik Tavitian, Detroit Free Press
The UAW-Chrysler Training Center building on Nov. 11, 2020, in Warren. The facility is scheduled to stop operations in its current form for the year.

The buildings housing the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center on East Nine Mile Road in Warren, complete with an auditorium and parking for 500 vehicles, are for sale.

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The brochure from Thomas Duke Commercial Real Estate practically gushes at the possibilities:

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“Only one and a half miles from two major interstates (I-75 and I-696), this well-located property makes for an outstanding headquarters for any automotive company, major supplier or other industrial businesses wanting to establish themselves in Metro Detroit’s revitalized industrial market.”

Despite the glossy sales pitch in the 13-page brochure, the property, which was the focus of much of the early publicity surrounding the ongoing UAW corruption scandal, might end up in a familiar role, conducting joint activities training involving Fiat Chrysler and the UAW.

Paperwork available with the 2019 labor contract indicates that the company’s intention is to continue joint training at the NTC property in Warren, and FCA spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said “employees will see no changes in the way training is provided.” Tinson was asked, among other things, about whether FCA intends to buy the property, but she said she could confirm only that the property is for sale.

Although training activities are to continue, change will happen with the organizational structure, with the dissolution of the National Training Center, a not-for-profit entity, and its replacement by two Taft-Hartley trust funds to support training.

A notice of layoffs recently filed with the state of Michigan indicating the center will cease operations at the end of the year lists 97 affected employees, although it’s unknown whether some or all of those employees might be employed in the new organization. Staffing needs are yet to be determined.

The new vision for joint activities and training between the union and company is contained in a memorandum of understanding on the FCA-UAW Center for Employee Development, which was included with the 2019 labor contract documentation. Officials would not comment on whether the FCA-UAW Center for Employee Development is the name planned for the new training operation.

“The parties recognize the importance of conducting joint activities consistent with sound oversight, governance and accountability including strict financial controls and compliance with applicable laws,” according to the memorandum.

Joint activities in the 2019 FCA/UAW national agreement cover a range of areas, including new hire orientation, health and safety, World Class Manufacturing and technical training.

The memorandum noted that an audit of the trust funds conducted by an independent firm will happen each year and that “the joint purchase, sale or distribution of FCA-UAW promotional products and novelty items shall be prohibited.”

Benjamin Eisner, a Philadelphia-based attorney who is cocounsel to the National Training Center, said UAW members and others should be aware of several features of the transition to the trusts, including greater transparency.

“They also should know that the people in charge of the trusts will be accountable, held to strict fiduciary standards, and subject to careful oversight by independent auditors and by government regulators,” he said. “The planned sale of the Nine Mile Road facility will not affect UAW members directly, but they should know that any sale will be made prudently, in accordance with applicable law, with proceeds of the sale ultimately going to the trusts, as stated in the memorandum of understanding between the UAW and FCA.”

More: US attorney sets end-of-year goal for UAW reforms, wants union to run itself

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A focus on oversight and strict financial controls appears to be a clear response to the scandal, which saw millions of dollars meant for worker training instead spent on everything from home improvements to a Ferrari to jewel-encrusted pens. Fifteen people, including two former UAW presidents and the onetime lead labor negotiator for Fiat Chrysler, have been charged or sentenced to date.

Earlier this month, former UAW Vice President and ex-General Motors board member Joe Ashton was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his role in the scandal, including, prosecutors said, steering an almost $4 million watch contract to a friend knowing Ashton would later “strong-arm” him into a $250,000 kickback on the profits. The 58,000 watches were left in storage at General Motors’ jointly run worker training center. Prosecutors blamed Ashton for the loss of the 71 jobs connected to the center, which has been sold.

More: Prosecutors want 34-month sentence for ex-UAW vice president who sat on GM board

More: Fiat Chrysler, PSA Groupe reveal Stellantis logo

The 420,000-square-foot UAW-GM Center for Human Resources on Detroit’s riverfront “could find future use as high-end office space and maybe housing,” according to a recent Free Press report. The money from the sale — the price was not disclosed — is intended to support joint training programs.

Although joint training will continue, the sale means the location is shifting.

“We’ll train jointly per the terms of the National Agreement. Most training is being done in the plants right now, and we will do some at our training facility at the Warren Tech Center, depending on the course(s),” according to GM spokesman Pat Morrissey.

The UAW-Ford National Programs Center, occupying another prime location on the riverfront, is not slated to close. While Ford has not faced the same public connection to the scandal that its rivals have, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider has said the Dearborn automaker, in addition to FCA, is part of the ongoing investigation, and that GM is not a target.

It’s not clear whether any changes might be planned for Ford’s training center. A company spokeswoman was asked for an update.

Marick Masters, a Wayne State University business professor who specializes in labor issues, said any changes connected to the training centers are meant to continue the training but in a more fiduciarily responsible manner. 

Masters said he expects the training itself to shift as well, in part to better prepare the workforce and to focus on technological change in the industry.

“I would expect that you would see the training focus on the nuts and bolts of production and getting workers up to speed,” Masters said. “Right now when they’ve really got to account for every penny that they spend … they are going to make sure these are genuine training programs that are going to promote the interests of the company and the union.”

Masters said the training centers in recent years had been engaged in community projects, such as supporting charities, which allowed for some laxity. Those efforts are better handled through philanthropic organizations, he said.

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence. Become a subscriber. 

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Training center in UAW scandal has big price tag, but will its role change?

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