MEA union leaders try to convince people that the MEA speaks for teachers, and that criticism of the MEA is the same as criticism of teachers, public education, or even education per se. The reality, however, is that Michigan teachers oppose many of the MEA’s key initiatives and policies.
An internal March 1989 survey commissioned by the MEA paints a telling picture of the degree to which the MEA union leadership is out of step with union members. The evaluation, conducted by the Washington, D.C., firm The Analysis Group, Inc., included both teachers and support employees. The results speak for themselves. The survey found that:
- 69% of teachers and 86% of leaders are bothered that "the MEA takes stands I do not agree with;"
- 64% of teachers are bothered that "the MEA is mainly committed to union goals, not professional goals for education;"
- 75% of teachers and 80% of leaders within the MEA are bothered that "the MEA gets involved in issues, like abortion, that have nothing to do with education;"
- 55% of teachers are bothered that "the MEA is too liberal;"
- 67% of leaders within the MEA are bothered that "the MEA is too liberal;" and
- 57% of teachers are bothered that "the MEA never tells us how the dues money is being spent."
A telling anecdotal comment regarding the chasm that exists between union leaders and union members appeared in The Saginaw News in 1994. Saginaw High School economics teacher and former union representative Mark W. Hoerauf expressed the sentiments of a large number of fellow teachers. MEA officials, he said, "aren’t representing us effectively because they are not in line with our thinking." Hoerauf went on to say, "The people the MEA hires down in Lansing and Detroit are so much more removed. I don’t think I’m getting my money’s worth. The union is getting to be too much of a bureaucracy."
One reason for this situation is the lack of accountability that arises when teachers are forced by state law and their union contract to contribute financially to the labor union. Union leaders need not earn the voluntary financial support of their members. Few teachers know that they have a legal right not to pay the portion of their dues that goes to fund union political activity.