Tidbits From the MEA's Recent Financial Report

The union is slightly less bloated, but its top officers are still doing pretty well

The Michigan Education Association's LM-2 report for the 2008-09 school year is up at the U.S. Department of Labor's Web site.  (You can also check it out here.) This is the annual report on spending that nearly all private-sector unions and a handful of government employee unions are required to file annually.

The report is more than 200 pages of transaction listings, most of them fairly terse (dozens of transactions list an amount, a recipient, and the one-word explanation "union") along with a listing of employee salaries and miscellaneous data. But scattered throughout are some fairly interesting nuggets, such as:

  • The MEA raked in $66.3 million in union dues and "agency fees" thanks to collective bargaining agreements its affiliates have signed with local school boards. This works out to $41.69 for every Michigan public school student. In effect these are tax dollars turned over to the MEA, because school employees who oppose the MEA's educational or political stances have little recourse. This is just the union dues; as my colleague Jack McHugh points out, MEA's total income is close to twice that amount.
  • MEA is a bloated organization. According to our calculations, 25.6 percent of the union's budget went to representation, compared to 57.3 percent for overhead. This is actually an improvement from the 2006-2007 report, which showed just 22 percent going to representation. Nevertheless, MEA still spends more than twice as much on overhead than it does on representing teachers. That's the exact opposite of what one would find in reasonably well-run non-profit.
  • Politics still looms large in MEA's operations. The union has a Director of Government Affairs, a "Campaign Consultant" and five "Field Based Lobbyists" — all pulling in six-figure salaries, plus five secretaries in government affairs. If job titles are any guide, political activism appears to take up somewhere between a quarter and a third of the time spent by the communications staff.
  • Beleaguered school board officials looking to save money by privatizing will be interested to know that MEA has farmed out most of its maintenance and janitorial work. There doesn't appear to be a single janitor on staff at the union's East Lansing office.
  • The economic crunch doesn't seem to have hurt MEA much. Staff compensation actually went up 6.6 percent, and officers' compensation rose 15 percent. Executive Director Lu Battagliari's base salary of $215,326 represents a raise of around $15,000, and President Iris Salters got a $30,000 raise, bringing her base salary up to $239,105. (A tip of the hat to Lorie Shane and Michael Van Beek for noting this.)

The MEA has been dinged in some ways, though. Membership is down slightly, and the organization is getting ever-so-slightly leaner (as measured by the representation vs. overhead figures), but it's fair to say that Michigan's largest school union is doing better than a lot of the taxpayers who indirectly pay its bills and rich salaries.