Highly paid union officials oppose cost-saving measures for schools
Many Michigan Education Association employees are earning salaries more than twice as high as the average teacher, according to recently released U.S. Department of Labor data.
The information, part of an annual report labor organizations are required to file with the U.S. Department of Labor, revealed that 125 staffers of Michigan's largest school employee labor union received salaries and disbursements of over $90,000 from September 1999 to August 2000. The average Michigan teacher salary is $48,695.
Executive Director Charles Anderson was the union's highest paid employee, receiving $173,691 and over $50,000 in additional disbursements. MEA President Lu Battaglieri received the seventh highest salary, pulling in $127,099 with an additional $70,000 to cover items including travel and a car.
The MEA disclosed that it spent nearly two-thirds of its $58.2 million in revenues last year on salaries, benefits, and employee and officer expenses.
Part of this amount comes to the union in the form of dues payments from members, which equaled $48 million last year. According to 2001 figures, full-time teachers pay $457 in annual dues to the MEA, plus another $123 to the MEA's parent organization, the National Education Association. Other school employees, including janitors, bus drivers, cooks, and other service personnel represented by the union also pay hundreds in dues each year.
In addition to an annual revenue of $58.2 million, the union holds more than $32.6 million in net assets.
Some critics are charging the labor union with hypocrisy for taking money out of teachers' more modest salaries in order to generously compensate union officials.
Tom Shields, a Republican political consultant in Lansing, told the Grand Rapids Press, "These (MEA) guys plead poverty, and they say they represent the middle class then you see they're all living high on the hog. There's nobody making any sacrifices there."
The union doesn't see it that way. "Do we understand we're well paid, and we have to earn every bit of it?" MEA Director of Communications Margaret Trimer-Hartley told the Grand Rapids Press. "You bet. The folks who work here are highly degreed people. They're very dedicated."
MEA officials are also dedicated to ensuring that school-related jobs are performed only by dues-paying union members. Over bitter MEA opposition, many districts have "outsourced"–contracted out to private companies noneducational services such as busing, food service and custodial work–reaping savings that in turn can be applied to classroom instruction, including increased teacher salaries. The resulting outsourcing can reduce union membership as school employees join the private companies performing the service.
Outside MEA-organized public schools, however, the union embraces privatization as a sound management tool. A 1994 investigation by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found that the MEA contracted with a number of companies to perform tasks at its East Lansing headquarters; the same practice it opposes for public schools. The investigation revealed that Lansing-area private firms, instead of unionized employees of the MEA, were providing the union with its custodial work, food service, security, and mailing functions. Three of the four firms used by the MEA were non-union, and the company that operated the MEA's cafeteria was the same firm that operates many public school cafeterias over official MEA objections.
In addition to opposing school support service outsourcing, the MEA, through contract negotiations, pushes districts into spending tens of millions of dollars each year on unusually costly health insurance provided by a non-profit subsidiary of the MEA, the Michigan Education Special Services Association (MESSA). A study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," revealed that MESSA uses money intended for education to subsidize the MEA's basic operations and political activity. Therefore, attempts by districts to use non-MESSA health insurance may mean less revenue for the MEA.
The MEA is not the only school employee union under fire. Washington state's largest school employee union was fined $400,000 recently for illegally spending some school employees' fee money on political campaigns.
MEA documents state, "The mission of the MEA is to ensure that the education of our students and the working environments of our members are of the highest quality."
But parents and even teachers are increasingly concerned about the conflict between the MEA's goal of improving education and its activities that raise costs for schools and decrease funds that can be used in the classroom.
According to Esther Gordon, a public school teacher and MEA member from Bellevue, "Labor unions represent their own interests and not those of children."
To view the MEA's financial statements or for more information on the MEA, visit www.mackinac.org/9399.