FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MIDLAND--In response to an anticipated budget deficit of over $10 million, the Michigan Education Association’s (MEA) officers are proposing to raise membership dues the maximum amount allowed by the union’s bylaws. The average full-time public school teacher will see his or her annual MEA membership dues increased by $111.90, from $457.40 to $569.30 annually, a 25 percent increase. These dues amounts are in addition to National Education Association (NEA) and local association dues.

The deficit is believed to have arisen due to an increase in the cost of benefits for MEA employees, and lagging membership dues income because the reluctance of many school districts to hire new teachers or support staff. MEA membership fell at least 225 members short of projections and income was $628,559 short of expectations, according to an MEA document. The MEA is also planning program cuts, salary adjustments, and the elimination of 47 staff positions to deal with the shortfall.

According to an MEA memo dated Feb. 6 and addressed to its members, “Our investment income has fallen to nearly zero, and this has caused the value of our pension assets to fall dramatically.” The memo explains the need for increased revenue to meet federal pension fund requirements. The memo assures MEA members that “As ominous as this sounds, the (pension) plan is in no danger of going under.” (See MEA memo at www.mackinac.org/5177.)

Under the typical collective bargaining agreement in Michigan all public school teachers and support staff must either pay union dues or a pro-rata share of expenses related to collective bargaining, grievance processing, and contract administration, as a condition of employment. Because these requirements are not mandated by law, school boards could help their employees avoid hefty dues by bargaining for an “open shop” in their districts, which would permit employees to either join the MEA or decline to do so, thereby escaping all dues obligations.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy Director of Labor Policy Robert Hunter called for increased oversight of union finances at the state and federal level. “MEA members deserve to know in detail just how it is that the union got into a position where these hefty dues increases are necessary. Before going to its dues-payers, the MEA should cut its headquarters expenses to the bone to insure that any dues increases can be rolled back to levels that school employees can live with,” he said.

“In addition, all school employees compelled to pay dues should be able to vote on these increases before the dues are raised,” said Hunter. “If dues are ultimately increased, dissatisfied school employees can choose to resign from the MEA, object to all union spending not related to collective bargaining, and pay a reduced agency fee to the union for its representation services. This would help union dues-payers avoid increases they cannot afford,” he said.

According to Mike Antonucci of the California-based Education Intelligence Agency, the planned dues increase and other budget items must be approved by the MEA’s Representative Assembly, which meets in the spring. If implemented, the dues increase is expected to go into effect at the beginning of the 2003-4 school year.

MEA spokeswoman Margaret Trimer-Hartley would not confirm or deny the dues increase.

The Mackinac Center report “The Michigan Union Accountability Act: A Step Toward Accountability and Democracy in Labor Organizations” is available at www.mackinac.org/3944, and “Compulsory Union Dues in Michigan” is available at www.mackinac.org/235.

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